Usual layoff rules apply amidst Covid-19

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

Employees who lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19 should be entitled to usual settlements, according to Lenworth Johnson, president of the Antigua & Barbuda Bar Association.

As businesses risk closure, causing employers and employees to face the very real possibility of extraordinary layoffs, Johnson said he would expect employers to comply with the rule of law in Antigua and Barbuda.

He is adamant that an employer cannot abridge the rights of an employee except for lawful reasons.

“There may be some situations where the coronavirus did really affect someone’s business — let’s say it goes on over a long period of time and that person has to close down his business — well the usual severance payments and so on would have to come into play,” Johnson explained. 

In extreme and unprecedented cases like with the novel coronavirus, he said it may be that the government would have to go to Parliament to make certain laws and pronouncements as seen in other international territories.

“Short of that, I would not expect an employer to abridge the rights of an employee but one has to take it on a case-by-case situation. “

Those most affected by the impact of COVID-19 are people who work in the hotel and tourism industries. The virus has already brought a premature end to this year’s cruise season, putting hundreds of people — to include taxi drivers, tour operators and vendors — out of work.

For the moment, the government has decided to keep its borders open so that certain aircraft and vessels can come to Antigua.

Although the measure is meant to alleviate the pressures of the virus, it does not change the fact that the occupancy rate of tourist accommodations has declined from 90 percent to less than 50 percent occupancy. It is expected to plummet further to 10 percent by the end of this month, leaving hotel workers unsure about their future employment.

As it relates to price control on items meant to safeguard people from the dreaded COVID-19, Johnson explained that once the price of a product is controlled by the state, there is a law to prevent price gouging.

He told Observer, “if they [businesses] are found to have price gouged or increased unreasonably or certainly above the established markup, then they can be charged”.

On Wednesday, Cabinet approved a decision to add to the Price Control Order (CAP 138), those items that help with improved hygiene practices to include: rubbing alcohol, alcolado, hydrogen peroxide, Dettol, salve, Florida Water, and antiseptics and sanitisers to include those in gel, foam, liquid or spray for personal and commercial use. Wipes which are disinfectant and cleaning wipes are also included in the list of essentials.

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