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Cash-strapped Hotel Tower locks out unpaid workers ; Labour Ministry to investigate

Even as uncertainty surrounds the future of Hotel Tower, the Ministry of Labour plans to investigate why workers there have not been paid wages and salaries for some time and take steps to ensure that this is done.

Several workers, including managers and supervisors, on Saturday stood outside the front door of the Main Street, Georgetown property to vent their frustration at the fact that they have not been paid for weeks and months.

About 50 workers, 45 of whom are unionised, are affected by management’s decision. Many of them on Saturday carried placards that read “Lockout without pay,” “We need to be paid now,” “Single mother without pay,” “ Workers need to meet with directors,” and “Eyepass (disrespect) by foreign owners.”

Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle said officers from his department would Tuesday conduct an investigation aimed at getting the management to pay the workers, failing which legal action would be taken.

“We have to investigate it. They have to pay the people.  To be fair to everybody, we will summon everybody on Tuesday,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Asked if the company does not have money to pay the workers what would be the next move, Ogle said the Labour Ministry would take legal action against the employer. “We have to take them to court and then to have to tell the magistrate something. They have to sell off assets or something. They have to pay the workers,” Ogle said.

The Labour Ministry official said options could include a payment-plan that would allow management to make part-payments.

The workers claimed that they have been prevented from gaining entry to the decades-old hotel to perform duties since Friday afternoon. “I didn’t work this morning but when I came this morning, I asked the guard to open the gate and then she told me that the order that she got was only security and maintenance (personnel) to pass in,” said Terryl Charles, the Housekeeping Manager, for the past 30 years.

Charles said he has not been paid salary since December, 2013- an amount totalling GUY$800,00. He said he had taken his grievance to the Ministry of Labour which has so far failed to keep its promise to investigate. Charles said management has admitted owing him but “things bad and they are hoping to put things in place.”

President of the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU), Sherwood Clarke said a complaint would be lodged at the Labour Ministry on Tuesday as part of steps to ensure that the workers are paid.

Efforts by reporters to speak with management were unsuccessful as the guard relayed a message saying that the manager was unavailable.

The workers blamed management for the poor state of affairs a Hotel Tower, saying that huge credits amounting to millions of dollars are made to persons.  Housekeeping Supervisor Lynette Taylor said hotel room rates have been decreased from US$200 per night to a mere US$50. “The place must go down and now we have to pay for all of their negligence,” said Taylor.

Food and Beverage Supervisor of Hotel Tower, Theresa Da Silva lamented that she has not been paid for more than six weeks but she has been still reporting for duty.  She preferred if management had inked a formal agreement with workers for them to cease work for a given period. “How can you send staff home that has not been paid? How am I supposed to stay home for three months or six months without being paid my previous outstanding salary so I am calling on the owners of Hotel Tower to pay me,” she said.

The union official said CCWU in April had rejected a proposal by management for the workers to be laid off for six to eight weeks because the Guyana Power and Light Inc. has disconnected electricity supply.   Clarke said, instead, the union had recommended a reduction in the work-week from five days to three days and “you would try to beat down the financial crisis of the company and they agreed on that principle but now on Friday was a different scenario.” Clarke said the company’s apparent financial crisis dates back to more than one year now