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By Carl Joseph

With the inevitability of most of the major hotels on island closing their doors at the end of the month, hotel workers are being granted some form of financial relief through access to a thrift fund.

The thrift fund is a pool held in trust by the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) in conjunction with the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU). The workers and the employers pay 2.5 percent each into the fund, making a total of five percent from their salary.

Hotel workers will now be able to access up to 50 percent of their investment.

The ABWU’s Deputy General Secretary, Chester Hughes, explained to Observer that the decision to offer this interim relief to the workers was a joint one between the ABHTA and the ABWU.

“There will be absolutely no source of income that would come to these employees for the next three to six months, therefore we needed to get some shape of cash in their hands during this period,” said Hughes.

“Under normal circumstances, when a hotel releases an employee on layoff, it is because that particular hotel is experiencing occupancy issues, but in this situation all the hotels are experiencing occupancy issues,” he added.

The fund’s original design was for education advancements, providing health benefits and property improvements.

The payments will only be made to workers who are being abruptly laid off and will be made on a weekly and/or bi-weekly basis. The per-period payments will be calculated using the 40-hour work week multiplied by the minimum wage of $8.20 per hour. As such, each of the 6,000 or so affected workers will receive either $328 per week or $656 bi-weekly.

“It is a form of relief,” said Hughes, “to assist them in the hardships that may come upon them and their families.”

Not included in the group of workers scheduled to receive this relief are those who may have very recently gained employment with a hotel.

Despite this, however, Hughes said that both the union and the ABHTA are working to provide food parcels to that set of workers during the layoff period.

“We have embarked on the ABHTA/ABWU Care Programme that will offer them some food packages … once they would have registered through their hotels,” Hughes said.

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