Prime Minister Gaston Browne has bluntly stated that the announced fivemonth temporary closure of the Sandals Grande Antiguan Resort & Spa is “an act of hostility” and a play for concessions.
In an invited comment from the Dominican Republic, the prime minster last night told the state media, “It it is what I think it is; it is clearly an act of sabotage and I am saying that no investor should be able to treat our people in that way”.
Over 700 employees of the top flight Dickenson Bay resort will be affected when it closes for the first time in 25 years. Many of them expressed “shock” at the temporary closure notice.
“Caught with our pants down” said one worker, who has been employed with the company for over 18 years.
“It’s a blow, we did not expect anything like this to happen, it will have a chain reaction on every household because we have a situation in that both breadwinners are working for the same company,” the woman said.
Another female employee agreed that the closure would have a devastating impact on her colleagues. “When I think about my colleagues, for example, who have car loans; mortgages and so on, how is that going to work out?”the woman asked.
The Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), announced at a press conference yesterday that the fivestar resort will close for up to 5 months effective September 20, 2017 for “essential maintenance works”.
However, the nation’s leader had earlier told OBSERVER media, that the closure was not in any way linked to the Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) dispute.
“That’s a settled issue. It was immoral for Sandals to hold on to trust money collected on behalf of the state. There is no way they could have justified that.”
Browne said the hotel group recently requested a waiver in duties and taxes on food and beverages, but it was deferred “considering that the other hotels would have made similar demands resulting in the reduction in tax revenues”.
The PM said it was explained to the Sandals officials that the government’s finances were in a very “precarious position” and it would plunge the government’s finances into a crisis if duties were waived on food and beverages.
“We had a balanced budget for the past two years due to the increase in revenue and fiscal prudence. In the circumstances, we are likely to run a deficit and would have to borrow to fund the deficit,” Browne said.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Asot Michael has refused to comment on the matter.
However, callers to the Voice of the People radio programme complained bitterly about the closure indicating that it will be the workers who will feel the pinch.
“My whole generation of the family works at Sandals and this man just got up and closed the property for five months. Somebody stop being blind and stupid, “one caller said.
The callers also questioned the reason for the closure given that the resort will also be closed during the busy winter period.
In a sideline interview after yesterday’s news conference, Chief Shop Steward Aulingston Nicholas said the news was shocking and came without prior warning.
“I have been working with the company for 10 years as a Bar Supervisor and it is the first time we are really closing. I have always worked five weeks and occupancy has never been below 50 per cent,” Nicholas said.
In a July 14 letter to the General Secretary of the ABWU David Massiah, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Shawn DaCosta indicated that Tourism Minister Asot Michael, along with Public Safety & Labour Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin were formally advised by a letter dated July 13, 2017.
In the letter, the company made the assurance that it would honour all its obligations to its workers. The letter also outlined that the company “recognised the importance of reopening as quickly as possible and will endeavour to do so”.
During yesterday’s news conference, the ABWU General Secretary told reporters the union viewed the proposed closure as a blow to the national economy.
“Our research indicates that the company’s payroll loss to our members would be in the region of US $3 million. Taxes to central government over US $615,000 and to various vendors who supply services to the company, over US $ 3.7 million,” Massiah said.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)