The business issued an official notice closure via Facebook on Monday, August 10.
“It is with a heavy heart that we are forced to close ManJack Creamery. The Labour Commissioner, Mrs [Janice] Rymer wants to force this business to hire someone who is good for this country but not a good fit for our business,” the creamery said.
“Before we are forced to lower our standards and add to the already poor customer service climate in our beloved British Virgin Islands, we will respectfully close our doors,” it added.
Speaking to BVI news in a subsequent interview, Deborah Maddox – who is the wife of the creamery’s owner, Hezekiah Maddox – said the Labour Department has no right to dictate how to operate the business.
“We don’t tell them how to run Labour, they shouldn’t tell us how to run our business. We understand this country’s situation where they need to find work for the local people and we don’t have a problem with that.”
“We’ve hired locals before … This is not an issue for us. But, at this point in time, that is the person that we want for our business,” she added.
Mrs Maddox said the issue arose after they were seeking an appropriate person to fill the position of Sales Associate in the ice cream parlour.
She said the process began in January 2020 where a number of advertisements were published in the local newspaper as per the territory’s Labour requirements.
“We did everything that we were supposed to do with Labour and they actually sent us a total of 18 persons — eight in the beginning around January and then we had posted on Facebook and stuff like that. So we interviewed a few people and actually hired three people and they did not work out,” Mrs Maddox explained.
Of the applications received from the advertisements sent out, she said the perfect match for the job was found in a female resident who has been in the territory for almost two decades.
But despite the business’ preference, they were asked to consider another batch of applications from the local pool.
“We put in her application in March then, of course, COVID-19 hit. And then once we were opening back in May, she went in to deal with her work permit and they said they were not going to issue a work permit.”
“They called us and told us that we needed to interview additional persons so they sent us an additional eight résumés. We went through them and interviewed two out of the eight, they were not what we wanted or were comfortable with and we thought that at this point in time that they would issue the work permit,” the business operator explained.
She continued: “They (Labour) now called in the woman this morning (Monday) and basically ganged up on her and told her they were not going to issue her a work permit, she needs to find another position because that position (Sales Associate), anybody can do that and that we should hire a local.”
Mrs Maddox said she was appalled by the statement, as the woman the business was attempting to hire has played a role in the BVI community for many years.
“This person that we wanted to hire, she has lived in the BVI for the past 19 years. It’s not like we just plucked somebody out of the sky. She has been here, she has been part of the community, she has a child here, she has roots here, she is an active member of the church. She’s transferred from one job to the next, that is basically all that she did,” Mrs Maddox further explained.
Minister of Labour & Immigration Vincent Wheatley took to social media to respond directly to the allegations made regarding his department.
He said: “The records show that he (Mr Maddox) was sent about a dozen locals to fill that position. His attitude was that he would rather close than hire a local. If this is your attitude in this country at this time, good luck.”
“I will not be threatened, blackmailed, or held hostage for trying to help my people in this most difficult of times,” Minister Wheatley added.
Mr Maddox also responded to the Minister Wheatley statement, expressing that he was not trying to be devious towards the department in any way.
“This is not about blackmail or [being] held hostage, I don’t have that kind of power. You and your Commissioner do. I chose someone long before this COVID-19 issue. As I said in my post, Labour wants someone that is good for the country, I need someone that is a good fit for my business,” he stated.
Just last month, the ministry announced that expatriate residents who lost their jobs because COVID and are unable to find new work must leave the territory.