Close to seventy hotel employees in Dominica have become the latest economic victims of COVID-19 as this deadly pandemic continues to wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods all over the world.
Dominica has been fortunate to have lost no one, so far, to the deadly coronavirus but the country’s economy is reeling from the impact of the contagion. The hotel sector has been dealt a particularly severe blow.
The management of one Dominica’s premier hotels, the Fort Young Hotel, has announced that it is now operating on a skeleton staff, having had to take the most difficult decision to lay off workers.
The layoff is being attributed to the slowdown in activities at the hotel due to the COVID -19 pandemic which has had a crippling effect on the tourism industry. Since the full effect of the pandemic manifested in March, many of the hotel’s guests would have returned to their homeland and the shutting down of the island’s borders have virtually brought activities to a grinding halt.
Chairman of Fort Young Hotel, Gregor Nassief, in a statement to staff explained that from the middle of March to April, they have tried to maintain a level of operation and to keep as many staff as possible on payroll as they tried to cushion the impact of the evolving crisis.
“We are also trying to get a grip on how long the tourism economy will take to improve and we were also waiting to understand the details of government’s stimulus plan. Throughout all this time, we felt it best to ask you to be on non-pay leave as opposed to laying you off because in that way we could call you back once we felt that we could start back the operations,” Nassief explained.
He further stated that in the current circumstances, it was in the best interest of the hotel to lay off staff since there was no definite sight in terms of the hotel returning to its normal operations.
“In the current scenario, we have realized that the recovery would take much longer and also comforted by the fact that government’s stimulus will give a level of income support, we now think that it is the appropriate time to move to a layoff scenario. One of the key reasons for that is that we don’t know how long that will last,” Nassief stated.
He labeled the situation “difficult” but said it is being done in the best interest of the Fort Young Hotel.
“It is something which was very difficult for us to do but we have to concentrate on the financial health of the company so we can bring it back as soon as we can and reemploy everyone,” the hotelier said.
Nassief made it clear that the Fort Young Hotel is not shutting down.
“We have a core department, security, accounts, reservations and marketing for persons who wish to come and book,” he said.
Nassief revealed to Dominica News Online (DNO) that about 68-69 employees of the hotel were laid off and those still employed have all decided to take a fifty percent pay cut while he has decided to forgo a salary.
“As the Chairman, my salary has been cut to zero. The rest of the management staff that remains have taken between a 50-70 percent pay cut and even those fully employed like the security, have taken a pay cut…we are all trying to sacrifice for each other,” Nassief said.
Meanwhile, another prominent hotelier who preferred to remain anonymous, told to DNO that the relief measures announced by the government do not address the situation of the major foreign exchange earner and major employer which he says is tourism.
“Fort Young Hotel’s modern firing is a testament to the view that tourism is not going to recover soon. It will be in the doldrums till at least December or so of 2021,” the hotelier said. “Even if we are soon declared COVID-19 free, hotels and other service providers will not have any business until the economies in the source countries recover economically and people again feel confident to travel many hours in an enclosed aircraft cabin.”