Hotel workers are unwavering on the frontlines of a fight for thousands in monetary entitlements.
In fact, the workers were heavily critical of Prime Minister Mia Mottley and key members of her cabinet claiming they are out of touch with their dire plight.
Approximately 60 laid-off staffers from three South Coast hotels mounted a joint “wildcat” protest threatening that, in the absence of definitive answers from their former employers and/or the Government, the protests would increase and intensify.
Their cries have also received the support of Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley, who mingled with protesters on Friday and pledged the commitment of his People’s Party for Democracy and Development (PdP) in the workers’ struggle.
On Friday, former employees of Accra Beach Hotel and Spa again protested in front of the Rockley, Christ Church establishment. This time, however, they received reinforcements from frustrated colleagues from Savannah Beach Hotel and former Hilton Barbados Resort workers who say they are all victims of similar “injustices” from former employers in the hotel sector.
“Everyone in the tourism sector is going through the same things. We are feeling the same pains. We would like to know when the severance would be paid,” said Natasha Burgin, who was instrumental in assembling the joint action.
The protesters received the backing of pedestrians and motorists who shouted words of encouragement or sounded their horns in support as they passed by. It was also a learning experience for dozens of students from the St. Lawrence Primary School who walked past the protest whilst on a field trip, and who pressed their teachers for answers about the unusual spectacle.
Friday’s four-hour protest, though peaceful, was a show of defiance to a stern message from the Prime Minister in her Independence Day address. While on one hand, Ms. Mottley promised that the frustrated workers would, at some stage, receive their monies from the severance fund, she also knocked the protests as a deviation from “who we are” as a people.
“There are ways of dealing with these matters and we know how to do it and we can do it without undermining the confidence that those who may be watching us from outside have in us literally because they see all of these examples of what they view as wildcat action taking place in this nation,” Ms. Mottley advised.
The PM’s statement did not sit well with the laid-off workers who described the comments as “out of touch” with the realities of working-class Barbadians struggling to pay bills and feed their families with no money coming in.
“Government ministers don’t have to worry, because every month they are getting money and making sure that their friends are happy. But we workers aren’t happy,” declared Kevin Greaves, a former Savannah Hotel worker.
“Ms. Mottley is talking about wildcat [protests], but she hasn’t seen protests yet. We aren’t politically motivated, this is about people. This isn’t about any political parties, and every day they are on the television talking, but we want action. Do you think that when the landlord comes for me, I could tell him that the Prime Minister said that she will pay us severance?” the frustrated worker asked.
“Our Prime Minister told us not to be loud and all kind of thing and to keep down the protests, but if the Prime Minister had not gone and changed the Severance Payment Act, I would have had my money in June and I could have spent it,” added Mary Paul, who served at the Savannah Hotel for seven years.
“When the other party was in power and the economy was down, the Prime Minister [then Opposition Leader] and everybody in Barbados marched through Bridgetown for workers’ rights. Now, the economy is down and the Prime Minister is telling us that we should turn down the rhetoric. When somebody is hungry they get angry. A hungry man is an angry man.”
Singling out Mottley, the disgruntled former worker added: “I know that you are working and getting your money when the end of the month comes, but we are paying the minister’s light bills, the ministers’ water bills, and all of their amenities.”
Also represented among the protesters was former Grand Barbados (now Radisson Aquatica) employee Rodney Waithe, who was severed eight years ago and is still awaiting severance payments. Now, Waithe fears he could find himself in the same situation again with the Savannah hotel, from which he was laid-off months ago.
Collectively, the workers want to be paid their severance, they want to know who will be responsible for paying it, and as the Christmas Season reaches its climax, they want to know how soon they will receive it.
In some cases, like the Savannah Hotel, workers were promised that the hotel would pay severance. However for others, like former workers from Hilton and Accra, management has been mostly silent about their intentions going forward, essentially forcing workers into severance.
Rodney Hinds, who worked as a chef at Hilton Barbados for 14 years said that unlike many people hoping to be re-employed through the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) programme, he is content to receive his severance pay and start a business. However, after months of silence, he received the shocking news that the Needham’s Point, St. Michael property had no intention of paying severance.
“I was disappointed from then, and that is what brought me to this stage, and I am prepared to continue protesting until I get my severance in my hand…The Hilton is a brand name hotel that was here for 54 years in Barbados. It was in business for 100 years, and to think that the Hilton would allow their name to be caught up in this is disappointing,” Hinds told Barbados TODAY.
“We are not worried about what the Prime Minister has to say. What the Prime Minister should come and do is make sure that the hoteliers pay severance because this is going to damage Barbados’ product really badly. And until they realize that, it is going to get even worse. Thankfully, the local media is playing their part but we also plan to put this on the international stage. So this is not just going to end today. This will continue until the severance is paid,” he added.