As Jamaica’s tourism industry continues to reel from travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at Melia Braco Village hotel in Trelawny are disgruntled that they were sent home without formal communication from the management of the Spanish-owned hotel chain.
Several employees who spoke with the Jamaica Observer last week complained that while they were bracing for the inevitable, they learned about the closure of the hotel in the local news and not from their employers, who have yet to give official word about the situation.
“The staff is upset because dem just send us off without any letter or anything. We tried reaching out to HR and nobody is saying anything. Nobody knows where they stand right now,” a female employee at the hotel told the Sunday Observer.
The woman, who did not wish to reveal her name, explained that before she was told not to return to work two weeks ago, the general manager of the hotel refuted claims in a staff meeting that the hotel would be closed, only to announce shortly after that workers were to stay home.
“When we first found out about the closure of the hotel it was through the newspaper when they printed that they would be the fourth hotel to be closed. When we queried about it, the GM (general manager) and the HR manager stood in front of us and said nothing like that, we shouldn’t follow the media, and they would not be closing.
“About two days after, we were told that we don’t need to come to work because no guests are there. No letter, no meeting, and nobody has reached out to us,” said the woman.
“Every other hotel has given their staff a meeting stating when they would be opening back or telling them why the hotel is closed, and they have given them a letter. We have received none of the above,” she added. “We know that most persons will be out of a job because nobody knows when the market will be opening to get visitors here. But we need something in writing.”
When contacted on Friday evening, general manager of the hotel, Luis Elizondo told the Sunday Observer that a statement would have been sent to the workers who were laid off later that night with “guidance about how we will proceed going forward,” he stated.
Without denying the claims of the workers, Elizondo explained that the hotel was in ongoing negotiations with an entity, which he did not wish to disclose, about the hotel’s plans for laid-off workers.
A letter sent to workers later that evening announced that there would be a meeting on Wednesday, April 1.
Meanwhile, another employee told the Sunday Observer that weeks prior to the closure of the hotel, management had indicated that they were in discussions with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) as the possibility of the hotel closing loomed.
However, the male worker, who also spoke anonymously, said that upon checking with the NIS, this was revealed not to be the case.
“Before they sent us home, they said they were waiting on the NIS to get back to us for us to have a meeting. However, some of the workers contacted the NIS office and asked them about it. NIS did not have a clue about what we were talking about,” said the worker, while explaining that a meeting that was scheduled for last Monday during which it was said a representative from the NIS would be present, was later cancelled without an explanation.
The NIS spokesperson could not be reached by phone up to Friday.
In recent weeks, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett had announced that over 1,000 workers in the hotel sector would be impacted by the travel restrictions. As such, the Government announced that persons who were laid off would be getting financial support during the pandemic.
The workers, however, were concerned that without a formal letter of dismissal from the hotel, they would not be able to claim the Government assistance.
“Because of this COVID-19 situation we know the tourism industry got a serious hit. But we haven’t got any information from the hotel, a letter or anything to say what they will be doing based on what is happening.
“The Government is saying that you have to show reasonable employment within a certain time. We are employed but we don’t know what HR is doing, if they have sent a list of names of persons to get that benefit. Nobody is saying anything to us,” said one male employee.
“As we know, we are in a crisis and we don’t know how long we will be out of a work for. My concern is that the Government has implemented some form of plan for us but we don’t have anything from HR to say that we have been laid off.
“Nobody has reached out to us telling us if they are in dialogue with the Government for us, so we are just left in the dark,” said another worker.
Minister Bartlett, however, later sought to allay the fears of the workers when the Sunday Observer contacted him on the matter, calling the hotel’s approach “tacky”.
“I am surprised to hear that. But they wouldn’t have to worry about that because we are working with the hotels in terms of getting the facts about the state of every worker by name,” he said.
The minister also said that “the stimulus package is going to be supporting everybody who has been sent home. This will actually apply to two levels of people, those who have been sent home, and those who have been kept on staff, as long as their salary is below $1.5 million then a grant will be given to the company to support that.
“Everybody who used to be working from the 10th of March to now and they get laid off, they would fall within that group to get support,” said Bartlett.
In the meantime, the workers expressed their anxiety about being jobless during a pandemic, many of them having no other income or large savings to fall back on.
“It is a very hard time for me right now because with me not working and my baby mother work inna hotel as well and she is not working right now either.
“Right now, all a di money weh mi have inna di bank a get spend up and mi nuh sure bout di next pay. So mi wonder what next. Mi nuh sure wah fi do next. A nuh like say mi have a business, so wi need fi know from dem weh dem a guh do fi wi,” said one male employee.
Another worker said that most of his last pay had already been spent on loans and other bills.
“I got paid yesterday but di likkle money dat they give us not enough. I borrowed a loan and dat draw out of my pay and I don’t have much money left,” the male employee explained.
“My daughter’s birthday was yesterday and I bought her a small cake and some ice cream so she can enjoy herself,” he added. “Suh dat money done already I don’t have much left back. And dem don’t even give us nothing extra or a little care package given the situation.”
Another employee lamented that: “Di savings dat wi have is going to run out and dem know dat hotel work is not paying us suh dat wi can save at least 30 per cent a wi salary every time get pay. I still have bills to pay and dem just put us out that like after five years.”
Meanwhile, others insisted that a formal letter of dismissal from the hotel would go a far way in helping to ward off loan collectors.
“This job is my only income and I have loans paying back at the bank, so it would be good if I could get a letter to use for loan purposes, just to state that at the moment I am not working,” said one female worker.
“Now that I am out of a job, I would like to know what is going to happen with di loan payments because I have a loan dat comes from my pay, plus I have health insurance for me and my son which also comes from my pay. I got bills and rent to pay also,” said a male worker.
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