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Expatriates face end to unemployment benefits

Most laid-off expatriate workers will see their unemployment benefit payments end because of the resumption of commercial flights.

The Government has been providing up to $500 a week to all residents who have found themselves out of work, or with their employment income diminished, as a result of measures to combat the spread of Covid-19.

However, the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) (Temporary Unemployment) Regulations 2020 state that work-permit holders are eligible for the benefit only if they are “prevented at the time of the application, due to travel restrictions directly related to Covid-19, from departing Bermuda”.

LF Wade International Airport reopened last week after a closure of more than three months. Limited direct flights to the US and Canada have already restarted and UK flights will resume on July 17.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Finance said last night: “Once Bermuda's borders reopen, the expectation is the work-permit holder is free to return to their country of origin, if they are still laid off or otherwise unemployed.

“In the event that there are factors preventing the departure of the worker, they will need to submit evidence to the Department of Workforce Development immediately to demonstrate the reason.

“The supporting documents may be submitted via e-mail or they can submit the evidence to the department during normal business hours as a hard copy.

“The department will make a determination as to the eligibility of the work-permit holder on a case-by-case basis.”

Stephen Todd, the chief executive of the Bermuda Hotel Association, whose members employ a significant number of expatriate workers as well as Bermudians, said an end to the benefit and the potential repatriation of workers was a concern for the industry.

“With the reopening of the airport the expectation would be that it would allow guest workers to return to their country of origin,” Mr Todd said.

“But they may not have that option, if their country's borders are closed.

“They are not going to board a flight going to, for example, the UK, if the borders of their home country, whether it be India, Sri Lanka, or the Philippines, for example, are closed.

“If that is the case, then technically they will still be the responsibility of their host country, which is Bermuda.”

The benefits scheme, originally designed with a 12-week limit, has been extended to 16 weeks. Consideration should be given to what support could be given to those out of work longer, he added.

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, said last Thursday that the scheme has so far paid out about $43 million to 10,100 people.

Another concern for hoteliers is that they will need their staff — including some expatriates — on island and ready to return to work as soon as bookings reach a level that will allow them to reopen, Mr Todd said.

He said the BHA had engaged in “preliminary discussions” with Jason Hayward, the labour minister, about this and other employment issues.

Tomorrow, the BHA will take part in talks on the industry's future, together with the Bermuda Industrial Union, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Tourism and Transport.

Mr Hayward said last week that collective bargaining agreements redundancy and layoffs, work permits, repatriation of staff, hotel redevelopment, unemployment benefits and training and development programmes would be on the agenda.

Given the trickle of visitors starting to return to the island and an uncertain outlook, Mr Todd said hotels would be “the last key industry to resume any level of normalcy”.

“Our ability to recover and to bring back our laid-off colleagues will be protracted over a long period of time,” Mr Todd added.

“The viability of reopening for a specific property will depend on the bookings it receives.

“Unfortunately now, there are more cancellations than there are advanced bookings, but it's a very fluid situation.”

He said some prospective visitors were deterred by the island's strict health protocols.

But he added: “Over 70 per cent of our visitor arrivals come from the US, and with the challenges they are having with Covid-19, we need to have protocols in place to protect incoming visitors, our staff and local residents.

“Ensuring that we remain safe will be a part of how we can market the destination to visitors.”

Some smaller properties were open and welcoming overseas and “staycation” guests, he said. A key challenge for larger hotels was to determine occupancy levels that made reopening viable.

Even hotels that were closed and without revenue were still employing people, Mr Todd said, as properties needed to be ready to reopen when bookings warrant it. Maintenance, administrative, reservations and security staff were among those needed.

Payroll tax concessions have been given to employees of hotel restaurants, but Mr Todd said the industry was lobbying for this to be extended to all hotel workers, given the severity of industry's ongoing financial struggles and its importance to the local economy.

Set for talks: Stephen Todd, CEO of the Bermuda Hotel Association (File photograph)

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Published July 09, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 09, 2020 at 9:53 am)

Expatriates face end to unemployment benefits

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