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2005-05-14 02:30:17

Supermarket Workers Demand Government Payout

26 former employees of the Grand Union supermarket never received severence pay after storeowner, Monarch Investments, closed without notice and left the country.

Leaning on the government's precedent-setting decision to make severance payments to displaced workers of the Royal Oasis Resort, former supermarket chain workers in Freeport terminated without severance by their U.S.-based employers are demanding that the government give them the same relief.

Two years ago, 26 former employees of the Grand Union supermarket sought legal help after storeowner, Monarch Investments, closed the establishment without notice, left the country and according to the workers, left with no stated intent to pay severance.

Many of the workers were employed with the establishment for between 15 to 35 years, and on Thursday insisted that like Royal Oasis workers they have been abandoned by foreign investors and are in need of assistance.

Their attorney, Carlson Shurland, told reporters he flew to New York and spoke with a company representative whom he said indicated that the company intended to live up to its financial obligations to its former workers.

"It's been two years now and we haven't had any contact with them. The government saw fit to assist the Royal Oasis people from the Consolidated Fund and we feel that if the government is prepared to assist because a private company decided to abscond then [these] workers in similar conditions should be put in the mix also," Mr. Shurland said.

He said the Government of The Bahamas must not play the "numbers game" when deciding whether it will assist one group of Bahamian workers when another group is facing very similar hardships.

It's the fear some people raised, including some members of parliament, when the government announced in February it was going to use public funds to pay off a private debt then go after the owners for the money.

The government recently announced it would make severance payments to close to 1,000 Royal Oasis workers after the resort's owners closed the property, indicating they had no intention to re-open it.

Labour Minister Vincent Peet recently said the government chose to step in and pay the workers because their layoffs were tantamount to a national emergency.

The former supermarket workers believe their situation is no different.

The Grand Union Supermarket changed several owners over the years and was reportedly experiencing financial hardships and gradually became an eyesore in the downtown community, with residents complaining of its condition both in and around the establishment.

But despite the conditions, the former workers said their terminations were unexpected.

Franklyn Pinder, who worked for 18 years in the store's grocery department, said, "After spending all those years on a job and to come in one day and [be fired was unexpected]. A stop has got to be made to this somewhere down the line because this is happening to Bahamians too often."

Former 17-year deli manager, Angelina Beavans, recalled that, "We just showed up to work for a meeting and they just served termination letters with no warning. I haven't worked for a year and I feel that just how the government came to the rescue of the [Royal Oasis workers] they can come to our rescue."

She called on the government to cause to be passed legislation to protect workers against investor pullouts.

Foster Miller, who said he was employed at the establishment for 35 years, is now at retirement age.

He insisted that, "The government should have something in place so that when these investors close down Bahamians can get their money. I haven't worked in two years and all my savings are gone. If [the government] can help Royal Oasis they can help us."

Mr. Shurland said the supermarket workers, like the resort's former employees, will hold demonstrations until they get a response from government on their calls for help.

By: Sharon Williams, The Bahama Journal

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