Employers in the British Virgin Islands are being told that if the need arises to lay-off staff to keep their businesses afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, BVIslanders and Belongers should be last to lose their jobs.
That advice is coming from Labour Minister Vincent Wheatley who was speaking in the House of Assembly on Monday, June 8.
His comments were made against the backdrop that he has received multiple complaints indicating that locals were being targeted when lay-offs are being done.
He said: “[There are] some really good employers in this country who do well by their staff. They’re offering them zero-interest loans [and] shopping vouchers. But then it got a next set who are using this COVID-19 to abuse their workers. And, sometimes they are choosing the Belongers first to abuse!
“I remember years ago when you see a job advertising in the paper you see ‘BVIslander’ and ‘Belonger’ first or preferred. Now, they turn that around. When they come to the abuse of people, its BVIslanders and Belongers first.”
He said the proper thing for employers to do is to have a staff meeting and inform their employees of the decisions of the company.
“We expect you to not lay off Belongers and BVIslanders first. We expect you to lay them off last,” Wheatley stated, adding that the employers in questions are creating “excuses” to justify their actions.
Responding to complaint in the workplace
Wheatley said he decided to respond to complaints by showing up at a particular workplace last Thursday.
He said that upon his arrival, he was ‘appalled’ by what he saw. Wheatley said he witnessed employees who were seeking some ‘documentation’ being barred from entering the establishment in question.
The minister did not go into detail but said he tried to seek an audience with the manager of the company but was met with ‘disrespect’ instead.
“I called, the manager didn’t answer the phone. I WhatsApp, the manager didn’t return the WhatsApp,” Wheatley recalled.
He said he visited the establishment with a team from the Labour Department, including the Labour Commissioner, and asked to see the manager.
The minister said they waited for some time but eventually left without seeing the manager who was inside the building.
“I said: ‘this is something else’ — the level of disrespect! But you cannot be here as an investor and think you can do as you want because we need you and we won’t survive without your presence. I find that totally, totally unacceptable. I mean if you can disrespect me as a minister of government, an elected representative, I could imagine the poor employees what they going through. And I was so glad I went because you hear stories all the time,” Wheatley stated.
He further assured the House of Assembly that he will be making follow-ups.
“I could never dreamed that this could happen in my BVI. This was an eye-opener for me and I have to go and really rethink how we go about doing business in this country,” he stated.
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