Despondent Hotel Tower workers and their union say they now believe that the hotel’s owner Salim Azeez misled them when he said that he was brokering a deal with new owners and lamented that they still have not been paid.
“It seems it is all lies, it was a made up story about getting new buyers and everything …Salim went from pushing us around for the money to now hiding from us and we don’t know when workers will be paid,” Clerical and Commercial Workers Union representative for the workers, Sherwood Clarke told Stabroek News yesterday.
On May 23rd, the historic 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 27th 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 28th 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 30th 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 it 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 2nd, Stabroek News was told that the 21 employees turned up for work as promised and were given a partial payment of $9,500 each.
Then on June 11 Azeez met with officials from the Ministry of Labour and at a meeting explained that the hotel had a buyer but that the buyer isn’t taking over the past responsibilities of the company, nor do they want the current employees. 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 and got vocal, prompting more promises of a payoff at the beginning of this month.
Up to yesterday this was not done but Clarke said Bobb once again promised to meet with him today to discuss a way forward.
The 67 workers are owed a total of $5,577,633 in wages, salaries and other benefits.
Hotel Tower first opened its doors in 1866 on the site of the present Guyana Post Office.
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.