Pressure for Workers at State-Owned Hyatt Hotel

by Gerry Kangalee – National Workers Union Trinidad and Tobago

Workers at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on the waterfront in Port of Spain, are under extreme pressure, from the poor treatment they are being subjected to, by the management of this state-owned hotel. Yes, state-owned! When it was reported back in May in the foreign media that Hyatt Hotels was terminating 1300 jobs, people in T&T became concerned. Many people are not aware that the Hyatt Regency Hotel belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Express of July 13 2020, since the onset of Covid Prime Minister Rowley said it cost the Government $8 million a month to keep the Hyatt open and to keep 400 workers in jobs in the 428 room hotel. The workers have expressed interest in how that money was actually utilised to keep them in their jobs, because the workers in the Spa department have been laid off with no idea when or if they will return to work.

While they were told that the layoff should end in September, they were advised that the date could be pushed back and that they would know their fate by August 24th. This means that not all the workers were kept in their jobs, despite what the Prime Minister said.

In any case, top management officials claim that the Prime Minister’s figure is nowhere close to what the hotel actually received. They claim he is either, mistaken, misled or…! Whose claim is correct remains a mystery. There is talk that more workers may be sent home, but this is not yet confirmed.

Workers in the restaurant usually work for approximately between $21 and $25 per hour. Before Covid they would take home a decent monthly salary per month when service charge is factored in. With the advent of Covid, they are no longer receiving the service charge and many of them are going home with half the wages they are accustomed to. This situation remains the same, although the Hotel has fully re-opened and a lot of business packages have resumed.

Management and Workers

Of course while workers’ salaries were cut drastically, management continued drawing their hefty pay packets and perks. So, our funds, public funds, are routed to the hotel to keep it running, but workers suffered a tremendous drop in their standard of living while management standard remained as per pre-COVID.

When workers enquired about their eligibility to access the salary relief grant, the HR department assisted them in getting their documents in order, but lo and behold Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago [UDeCOTT], under whose supervision the hotel falls insisted that they were not eligible and actually if they applied that would be fraud. After having endured for months the pressure of having to get by on their reduced wages, they were then re-advised that they could apply for the salary relief grant. Imagine that!

Working hours in the restaurant area have been reduced, with some workers working four days per week while others getting two days. (see roster). Reduced wages; reduced hours. Because of Covid all ah we in the same boat they say. Well they lie. All ah we on the same ocean, but the employers, the capitalists, the elite, the big shots are in a cruise ship, while the working class is in a leaky pirogue.

While workers struggling to make ends meet on their reduced wages, big management types who were already in the bracket of $75,000 per month are getting golden handshakes when they leave the job. If you find that hard to believe ask Ronan Doherty, who is about to leave the job of Director of Food and Beverage. The workers claim that other top management officials are also organising to leave the job. It is unclear how much their separation packages are going to cost taxpayers.

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Rronan Doherty, Hyatt Trinidad Director of Food and Beverage

Workers are wondering how come $8 million at Hyatt to keep 400 workers employed, while Hilton Hotel, according to the Prime Minister, was receiving $2.6 million to maintain 350 to 400 jobs. The difference is enormous. Is either management at Hyatt swallowing the bulk of that money or money is disappearing into thin air.

Workers are saying now that having lost four months of their accustomed wages, how are they going to meet their commitments like rent, mortgage, car and other loans etc. with fast diminishing savings.

Frontline Workers During Covid-19

How many of us know that during the Covid period, the Hyatt was being used to quarantine workers employed with BP, Shell and EOG, the leading offshore oil and gas producers in the country, all foreign-owned. It would be interesting to find out the terms of the contracts between these companies and the management of Hyatt. So you have reduced workers’ wages and working hours at the very time that you have transformed them into frontline workers!

So here we have a state-owned hotel jerking around their workers while, we, the citizens of the Republic, have no idea of what Afra Raymond calls the “underlying commercial arrangements in our state owned hotels.” Both the Hilton and the Magdalena Grand are also state-owned.

Raymond informs us that the State pays for “the design, construction, fitting and furnishing of the entire facility which the hotelier then operates under the terms of a management agreement.” So while we finance the whole affair, the international hotel chain runs the hotel as they fit according to their protocols.

Investing Public Funds

Since the hotel opened in 2008, $854 million dollars of public funds have been invested in it. According to Raymond: “On 10 June 2014, the then Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan SC, told the Senate some sobering facts (Hansard: 221-224) about the way that management agreement with Hyatt International had been operating.

That hotel was opened in January 2008, but due to an alleged error at our end, an important agreement was missing. Hyatt International was able to use that missing agreement to withhold payment of monies due to UDeCOTT under the management agreement. That issue was not resolved until June 2014 and ended with $334M being paid to UDeCOTT. So, for 6 and a half years the Hyatt Regency was thriving, with the majority of the high-end business in our capital, yet UDeCOTT had received no money…”

We have no idea what the return on our investment in Hyatt has been. While the Minister of Trade Paula Gopee Scoon told the Parliament on 2018.05.01 that between the years 2013 to 2017 the hotel made a net profit of $329 million, she refused to say what were the dividends accruing to the State.

Workers Defence

Workers at Hyatt are beginning to realise how vulnerable they are in a capitalist economy based on maximum profits, with minimum costs, especially labour costs. Workers need to defend themselves, particularly so in this period of all-out attack on their living standards and that of their families. The least they could do to defend themselves is to join a union. The workers attempted to do so in the past, but were not able to get the required majority. It is time that they make a renewed effort. Whatever you may think about the leaders of some trade unions…a bad union is better than no union!

[Photo – Hyatt Regency Hotel, Trinidad – Gerry Kangalee]

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