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By Carlena Knight

Hotel workers who contribute to the thrift fund instituted by the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) and Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) could be collecting money well beyond the initial three-month period.

This is according to Deputy General Secretary of the ABWU, Chester Hughes, who recently disclosed that staff will be allowed to access more funds if the necessity arises.

Presently, 17 resorts contribute to the fund. As of April 10 2020, each qualifying employee has been receiving $640 per fortnight – or a maximum of $3,840 – but, according to Hughes, going forward, all options will be examined to avoid hardship for members.

These comments stem from ongoing discussions with the ABHTA on the way forward during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we made the decision on the question of the retirement fund, we have said in the first instance we are going to do it for the first three months,” the union official said. “If it is necessary for us to go back to review that position to allow for more access of the funds, we will do it.

“The point is, we are examining all of the options on the table for these employees and our membership and we are trying to work the best way to avoid hardship on our members because at the end of the day we care for our membership,” he continued.

“We want to make sure that their families are not suffering and they are not suffering. We know that the hotels are running short already on the funds that are coming out of the thrift fund and we are having those dialogues with the various hotels and the association to give relief to those persons, so very soon we will make an announcement on what is the way forward.”

The ABWU also provided over 1,500 food packages to its members who are mainly employed in the hotel sector, and Hughes said this venture would also be continued.

On the question of severance, the ABWU is maintaining its position that hotel workers should be the ones to determine whether or not they want to be severed or remain employed.

After the coronavirus pandemic led to closure of resorts and workers being sent home, hoteliers are now struggling to find the balance between paying severance to their staff, which is now due, and remaining in business.

“Our position is that it should be left to the worker and the worker will make that determination whether they want to be severed or to hold out for a little bit longer,” Hughes said.

“If there are persons who want to leave the industry, then they should be given the opportunity to leave because they might be tired of working in the industry. There are some who still have responsibilities to their families and to themselves that they may not want to leave the industry at this time and may be in a position to hold it out.”

However, he cautioned that there may be some “danger” in workers choosing to receive severance at this point in time.

“There are a number of workers who have liabilities with banks. They have just renewed their mortgage, they have loans to pay and not only that, if they get paid off now, they might not see that money because they still owe the bank for their homes.

“So, banks will ask them, how are you going to secure this mortgage now you don’t have a job? Covid may not end now; the crisis may not end now.

“Most persons that are speaking are saying that this thing could go on into 2021, and if it goes on into 2021 we are going to see unemployment, unfortunately, rise in this country.

“If hotels were to sever everyone now, they are not going to open at the levels of employment that they currently have because it has to do with guest occupancy and the state of play,” Hughes added.

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