By Shermain Bique-Charles
The Covid-19 outbreak and the economic downturn it engendered swelled the number of unemployed residents by thousands, officials have said – and now a leading trade unionist is predicting the number of those out of work could triple by year-end if the crisis persists.
“We view that unemployment is going to be very high if this pandemic ends, but between now and January, we can see a doubling or tripling of unemployment in the country,” Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union, Chester Hughes, told state media yesterday.
Hughes said the pandemic has not just affected hospitality workers but that unemployment among all groups of employees had increased sharply due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We also airline industry workers at home and other companies who would have laid off staff because they are not reaching the budgetary expectations…we have those young people who are now about to leave school, plus nationals abroad who lost their jobs and coming home,” he explained.
He said the country must now make preparations for the road ahead, advising families that they may have to pool resources to get through the next year or two, saying that in many homes, people have been living “independently”.
“Now is the time to live as family and not live as individuals. Households must start to plan life and a budget around the minimum income received, instead of everybody still living independent lives,” Hughes advised.
Hughes said retail stores in Antigua and Barbuda were also feeling the brunt.
“Some supermarket sales are down almost 35 percent because persons don’t have disposable income like they used to…the stores are saying their sales are down 50 percent and 60 percent and some companies are saying they may be forced to close,” he said.
The prevalence of online shopping, he explained, coupled with Covid-19, is having a major impact on the country’s retail sector.
“This pandemic is not going to end; all indicators are saying we have another year in this crisis. If we don’t plan properly most persons are going to be bankrupt by the end of the year to the point where there will be anxiety attacks and stress,” Hughes warned.
Local residents responding to a post on Observer’s Facebook page testified to the latter.
One man said he feared he was about to lose everything he owned due to plummeting income. Another said he had only recently taken up home with his wife and child and secured work as a waiter when the virus hit Antigua.
“Have been home for about four months, have a lot of rent back up, have been searching for a job from ever since; none seems to be available,” he wrote.
A couple of residents also called for more government help to be made available.
“Some type of assistance needs to be put in place to help people, even if it’s an interest-free loan from the banks to assist families with a reasonable timeframe to pay it back, or some type of government support,” one woman suggested.
“People losing everything they worked hard for shouldn’t be an option; this is very sad,” she added.