Former Jolly Beach Resort workers who have been fighting for almost two years to get severance and other entitlements could soon see some reprieve.
The government revealed to Observer yesterday that it is taking steps to buy and reopen the hotel, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic, using US$200 million raised through the European stock market.
The news came two days before former workers are poised to take to the streets to once again demand millions in outstanding pay. They plan to protest outside Parliament on Thursday, prior to Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s budget presentation.
The protest was revealed in a press release yesterday by the Antigua and Barbuda Worker’s Union (ABWU) which represents them. The decision was taken on Monday at a meeting held with the ex-employees to discuss outstanding severance following the hotel’s closure in March 2020.
Talks with a handful of investors interested in buying the resort are said to have been underway for quite some time, but it appears the government is not convinced they have the resources needed to meet the cost of the property which is currently in receivership.
Minister of the State within the Ministry of Finance Lennox Weston confirmed to Observer that talks have been held with five potential investors and, while they pledged to have the requisite funds, the money has not yet been forthcoming.
“We have formulated a back-up plan to raise the monies to buy the hotel ourselves and, out of that purchase, the receiver will have the monies to pay the workers as first priority.
“We expect the monies to come from the European source within the next two or three weeks and when that happens, we believe within the next four to eight weeks, we can conclude that purchase and the workers will be paid within that timeframe,” Weston said.
The minister added that the government does not intend to keep the hotel out of commission while it awaits negotiations with potential investors.
Hundreds of former resort staff, at least two of which have since died, are owed more than EC$7 million in outstanding pay and severance. Government and statutory bodies alone are owed around EC$80 million.
Meanwhile, some have expressed scepticism at the government’s plans for a remedy. A relative of one of the deceased ex-employees – who had worked there for 20 years and passed away last year while owed an estimated EC$60,000 – told Observer yesterday, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.