The Ministry of Labour plans to intervene this week on behalf of former employees of the Hotel Tower, after management of the business broke several promises to pay over owed wages and benefits.
The employees have also secured the services of attorney Nigel Hughes to help them obtain what is owed to them.
The 67 workers are owed a total of $5,577,633 in wages, salaries and other benefits. “We are arranging a meeting soon with the union because the Ministry of Labour is very troubled by this… we want the workers to collect what is owed to them,” Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul told Stabroek News.
Gopaul said that the ministry has not received a formal correspondence from the union but had received a secondhand report from a source and seen reports in the media reports indicating that the workers were still to be paid. He said his ministry will not wait on the formal report but will initiate a meeting with the union to ensure that payment was sorted as soon as possible.
“No, we will not wait on the letter. I have already asked that this matter be looked into,” the Labour Minister said.
On June 11 of this year, owner of the Hotel, Salim Azeez, had met with officials from the Ministry of Labour as a result of a petition by the Clerical and Commercial Workers’ Union (CCWU). At that meeting, he had explained that the hotel had a buyer but that the buyer wasn’t assuming legacy costs and did not want the employees that had been on staff. He said that he would pay workers off from an initial payment given to the company by the new buyers to pay off all expenses.
The hotel last month reneged on that promise. Azeez’s legal counsel, Marcel Bobb, told the workers that the hotel’s first obligation was to the bank, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL).
Workers became enraged as they felt they were being wronged. Their complaints led to more promises of a payoff at the beginning of this month.
Last week, the union met with Bobb twice and he promised them again that the hotel was working to pay the monies. However he could not say when and this prompted the union to also seek a legal representative. CCWU representative Sherwood Clarke, when asked why he had not sought help from the Labour Ministry, said that he was exhausting talks with Tower’s management before he did.
He said that both the union and workers now believe that they have reached the breaking point after being given “a royal run around” by the Hotel.
As a result, Clarke added, the workers and union decided to seek the services of Hughes.
“The workers have come to a decision that they want Mr. Nigel Hughes to represent them …we are being lied to and given promises too often. We hope that now we have Mr. Hughes workers will get their money,” Clarke said.
On May 23, the hotel abruptly closed and employees protested after they were told through an anonymous phone call that letters were at the front counter for them. They said when they collected their letters, they learned that that day was the last day of work for them as the hotel was closing. They continued their protests in the days that followed.
The hotel then released a statement on May 27 explaining its abrupt closure, saying that business had declined dramatically in recent times and it assured that assets would be liquidated to pay outstanding amounts to its employees.
Azeez had met with the union on May 28 and had proposed that workers return to work for one month unpaid until he was somewhat clear of his financial crisis. The union rejected the proposal and Azeez left and returned on May 30 with another option which was accepted and a deal was brokered.
The agreement was that workers be given two options-to take a severance package and give management one month to pay them off or to accept a payment of all back wages and salaries and resume work. Twenty-one workers took the latter option while 24 took the former.
On June 2, Stabroek News was told that the 21 employees turned up for work as promised and were given a partial payment of $9,500. Since then it has been all promises and no action.
Last week, the despondent workers and the union came to the conclusion that Azeez had misled them when he said that he was brokering a deal with new owners and lamented that they still have not been paid.
Hotel Tower first opened its doors in 1866 on the site of the present Guyana Post Office Corporation.
In 1910, it was re-sited to its present location on Main Street under expatriate ownership. In 1946, the property was acquired by a Guyanese/Barbadian family, the Humphreys, along with 50 other shareholders and re-named Hotel Tower Ltd.