By Elesha George
As employees at the Perry Bay branch of Bargain Centre Supermarket remain uncertain about the future of their jobs and monies owed, three of them have reached out to the Antigua & Barbuda Free Trade Union (ABFTU) for assistance.
The trio is hoping to determine the status of their employment with the company, as it closes its doors to make room for a new entity, and in the absence of communication from the owner Stephen Joseph.
The union’s president, Samuel James, said they have made numerous attempts to contact Joseph on behalf of their clients who are owed severance, outstanding wages and vacation pay.
“We have been trying to reach out to Mr Stephen Joseph but Mr Joseph is not returning any calls and he is not answering our calls,” James remarked, noting that Joseph has a legal obligation to speak to the employees.
The popular supermarket has been experiencing challenges for months, evident by the empty shelves and significant reduction in its staff complement over the past year. It has long been rumoured that the supermarket was to be outsourced by a hotelier, but no one has been able to confirm this.
When Observer went searching for answers last week, we found out that the 20-year-old locally owned business was now being operated and managed under the Perry Bay Foods Ltd brand – befitting the signage that had been displayed on the outside labelled ‘Perry Bay Supermarket’.
According to information from the Intellectual Property and Commerce office (ABIPCO), however, Stephen Joseph is still the active director of the new company, which was registered on June 18 2020.
Documents submitted on May 21 2020 name additional directors as Anna-Maria Joseph, Max Mothersill, Marsha Moss, and Arleigh Byer.
Observer has made several attempts to contact at least two of the active directors, including Joseph, to speak on the objectives of this new entity, but, just like many times in the past, our calls and WhatsApp messages went unanswered. When we visited the site on Monday, the store was dark and barren with only three employees inside and little to no goods on the shelves.
Meanwhile, the ABFTU president said the union has only heard rumours about the new enterprise, to include that it is likely to start operating at the end of July.
“From all indications, the new operation is going to take effect at the end of this month based on information that we are receiving. All this is information that we are receiving that we are not in a position to confirm, which is why Mr Stephen Joseph needs to come and speak to us,” James told Observer.
The seemingly aggravated president described the owner’s actions, or lack thereof, as “a travesty of justice”, proclaiming that they will take whatever lawful action is necessary.
“That new operation will not open without us coming down there to picket … when and if that time comes, we will come down there and picket that operation until such time our clients receive justice,” James declared, adding that these are workers who have given many years of service to the company.
“It is not that they are begging the company for anything. They are legally due severance; some of them have outstanding wages and salaries, and some of them outstanding vacation. All the workers simply want is their legal entitlement and all the union wants is for Mr Joseph to be respectful and to come and sit with us so that we can apprise our clients as to what is going on.”
According to James, the ABFTU is “becoming wary of employers thinking that they are doing employees favours” by keeping them informed as to what their entitlements are and when they can expect to receive these entitlements.
He has therefore called on the owner to “simply do the right thing; to do the honourable thing”.