Front Page
January 16, 2009
SVG businesses feeling effects of US ‘economic cold’

The United States sneezed, now St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a cold.

Last Tuesday, January 13, one company laid off 62 employees, making it abundantly clear that the economic recession affecting the United States and many other parts of the world is now being felt in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a direct way.{{more}}

Angela Jackson, a mother of two young children, who was one of the unfortunate 62, saw it coming.

So when her boss at DiscoveryWorksLegal told her that her services were no longer required, she was not surprised.

Jackson, who was employed as an Accountant with the American litigation support company, which operates from offices at Lower Middle Street, told Searchlight that in the eleven months that she was at the company she saw the company’s income plummet.

“I knew that I was the last accountant to be hired, probably more than likely the first to be fired,” she said.

“…The recent regression of the US economy has had a profound impact on our business. Our sales have dropped off significantly over the last six months and this is presenting a number of challenges to the organization…. We had been hoping we could keep all of our employees with the company. Unfortunately, this is not the case,” a letter given to laid off employees on Tuesday and signed by local General Manager Kevin Jessamy said.

The 166 employees retained by the company were also informed that some of them will be temporarily laid off on a rotating basis. “(The Manager) told us that we would be divided into two groups, Group A and Group B, and then each group would be laid off for six weeks, until things get better,” said one employee, who did not wish to be identified.

Attempts to reach Jessamy on Wednesday proved futile, and founder and Chief Executive Officer of the company Harry deBari, when reached by email, said he would not comment, as his is “a private company”.

Just one day before the DiscoveryWorks layoffs, the Digicel Group, the largest mobile operator in the Caribbean, announced their “Voluntary Separation Programme” for staff across the Caribbean.

A press release from the company said that Digicel is reassessing their organizational structure, processes and to fully capture operational efficiencies. “This is particularly relevant in the current challenging economic environment where all companies… need to ensure that they have a lean and efficient structure to strengthen their financial position and protect plans for continued growth,” the release said.

Digicel expects that approximately 10 per cent of its workforce will take up the offer. However, if the target is not met, “We may have to consider an involuntary programme in the future,” the company said.

Digicel’s employees have until January 23rd, 2009, to apply for voluntary separation. The Voluntary Separation Programme should be completed by February 28th, 2009, a company official told Searchlight.

Digicel employs 25 people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Digicel’s main competitor, LIME, also announced recently that over the next ten months, up to 45 employees will leave the company in an effort to reduce the workforce. To date, nine employees have left.

Local hotels, too, are likely to follow their regional counterparts, which have announced layoffs in the face of significant declines in advance bookings. Last month, Sandals Resorts International announced that it was laying off 650 workers at its resorts in the Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

For one leading local tourism property, the picture is no different. Bookings, which at that property, normally are above 70 per cent at this time of the year, are now less than 20 per cent, Searchlight has been informed. That hotel is now considering sending home as many as two dozen staff members as early as next week, a reliable source told Searchlight.

In the midst of all this, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is calling on Vincentians not to lose hope. “Others may panic at the on-rushing economic challenges internationally; our nation will not. Others will be pessimistic; we will not be. We will continue to keep our focus, work harder and smarter, and be more caring of, and to, each other,” he said on Monday, January 12th, in his New Year’s address to the Nation.

Meanwhile, Labour Commissioner Patrice Roberts-Samuel told Searchlight that while there is more awareness at present about the layoffs taking place around the country, they have been going on for some time, sometimes under disguise, she said.

She reminded companies that they are required by law to notify the Labour Department if they intend to lay off more than five employees at a time. “Some of them don’t inform us as the Act requires,” she said.

Roberts-Samuel, a trained lawyer, said the Government’s role when employees are laid off is to ensure that they receive the compensation they are due under the law. She also reminded unemployed persons that the Labour Department also runs an Employment Service where job seekers can register.