Staff at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre in St Ann’s have been temporarily laid off with no pay effective April 1 as the closure of borders in light of COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hotel industry.
A letter dated March 25 signed by Stacey Ann Sylvester, director of Human Resources, stated that the hotel was already operating on a skeletal staff and that staff was given the option to proceed on vacation leave to ensure that they receive their March salaries.
“As the public health crisis continues to evolve, we have been faced with a time of uncertainty for the country as well as the hotel. Unfortunately, the occupancy is at three per cent and continues to decrease as decisions are taken to combat the spread if the virus example, closure of borders, limitations on social events etc,” the letter stated.
“At this point in time, it has become necessary for the hotel to escalate its contingency plan and take more drastic measures, in order to secure existing jobs and safeguard the financial health of the business,” it added.
It went on to state that the hotel can no longer sustain the payment of full salaries and wages to all team members, “Therefore, with effect from April 1, all team members will be temporarily laid off (with no pay) till April 30.”
Staff was then given an option to choose three options meted out to them by management, one of which involved working one week per month and being prepared to perform other duties than what’s in their job descriptions.
The options stated in the letter were:
“1. Continue your vacation leave and utilise your entire entitlement for 2020. If said leave expires prior to April 30 and you do not wish to return to work, the temporary-lay off will take effect at that point with no pay.
2. Utilise the remainder of your vacation and then agree to a reduction in your salary by 75 per cent. If this option is chosen, you will be required to work one week (or it’s equivalent) per month and may be required to perform duties that are not in your current description.
3. Cease any vacation/No Pay Leave and agree to a reduction in your salary/work schedule by 75 per cent from April 1 to April 30. If this option is chosen, you will be required to work one week (or it’s equivalent) per month and may be required to perform duties that are not in your current job description.”
Staff members were given by today (March 30) to select an option. If none was selected, employees will be automatically temporarily laid off from April 1.
Staff members were also assured that it would be business as usual once business rebounds and occupancy rates drastically improve.
A worker, who wished not to be identified said they are worried as there’s no money flow for them.
“Some of us are single parents, we have to put food on our tables. Yea, the government asked for rent and loans to be deferred but how are some of us going to get money to buy food because some of us live pay cheque by pay cheque. It’s hard.”
In an immediate response, the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC) condemned what it called the “callous, insensitive and inhumane decision of the management to lay off all employees of the hotel, without pay for one month.”
The union called it “a cowardly and backward decision.”
NATUC called on the Government to intervene in the matter immediately and to also review the contracts of employment of the senior management team responsible for “taking such a backward decision.”