The workforce furlough extension passed in the House of Assembly last year has been prolonged by another month and now lasts through the end of February, government announced.

The move again extends a decision reached last June, when the HOA passed the Labour Code Amendment Act, 2020, allowing for more flexibility in how long businesses can temporarily retain laid-off staff before providing severance pay.

The June bill, which was rushed through the House in one day, set a retroactive seven-and-a-half-month period for temporary layoffs beginning when cruise ships were barred from the territory on March 14 and ending Oct. 31.

Before the amendment, businesses could retain “temporarily” laid-off staff members for no more than three months before reemploying them or terminating them and paying severance, according to the government’s interpretation of the 2010 Labour Code.

First extension

In November, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley announced that the extension would be prolonged until Jan. 31.

Now it has been pushed to the end of this month, according to the Labour Code (Extension of Severance Pay Period) Order, 2021, which was Gazetted Feb. 4.

Accordingly, businesses have until March 1 to either rehire or terminate their retained staff. After that, they will have three months to pay severance to their employees unless another extension is granted.

When the original extension was debated in the HOA last June, legislators in favour argued that it benefitted businesses that didn’t want to lose experienced staff even though they couldn’t keep paying normal salaries during the pandemic.

Such businesses, they said, wouldn’t be faced with paying out severance packages to multiple terminated employees at a time when their budgets were already strained.

Advocates said the move also benefited employees who wanted to stay in the territory though temporarily out of work.

But critics including opposition member Julian Fraser (R-D3) warned that the extension could put employees in a bind if they don’t know if they will be rehired and don’t have the severance pay that would otherwise help them get a new start elsewhere.

New legislation?

Mr. Wheatley also promised last year that new comprehensive unemployment legislation would soon be coming to the HOA.

He has not recently provided unemployment statistics, but last June he said self-reported numbers showed that the tourism sector was hit hard: 337 companies reported that more than 4,000 jobs were affected by either reduced hours, pay cuts, layoffs or terminations, he said.