by Wade Gibbons
Employees at Sandals Resort are calling on Prime Minister Mia Mottley to initiate an immediate investigation into labour practices at the Christ Church property, which they say have deteriorated significantly and are not in keeping with the best social partnership traditions in the island.
Just a day after Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn said some hotels in Barbados were operating like modern day “slave plantations”, about a dozen employees met with Barbados TODAY and complained that Sandals was not only breaching labour practices, but was doing an injustice to the massive tax concessions which it had received under the previous Democratic Labour Party Government. Not only that, one irate employee noted, the hotel was not deserving of any further incentives which the Government announced yesterday it intended to pump into tourism to stimulate the sector in the present COVID-19 environment.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY under strict conditions of anonymity, one employee who said he had been with Sandals soon after its opening, explained that he had been home since March while an expat junior to him in years and experience in the industry was on the job carrying out an identical function to his.
“I have had an unblemished record with the hotel. I have from time to time been called upon to carry out the functions of someone above my pay grade and have done so to the satisfaction of the hotel.
“I have used my vehicle to carry out [a mentioned duty] on several occasions without complaint and have always done so to the satisfaction of the company. But yet I am home. I am really fed-up with Sandals,” he said.
Quizzed as to the reason he was still at home from the job if his record was so outstanding, the worker stated that Barbadians were generally being trampled on at Sandals.
He said there was a time when there were close to 30 Barbadians in senior management positions but that had dwindled to two – the financial controller and the operations manager.
Another employee said there have been instances where senior staff have been given virtually impossible tasks and targets which led to their frustration and eventual departure.
This, she said, invariably led to expats, especially Jamaicans, replacing locals. She stressed this was not about xenophobia but about Barbadian workers being treated fairly. She said there were a few Barbadians working for Sandals outside the island and therefore it was not about nationalities.
“This is about Barbadians being given a raw deal in their own country,” she said.
She explained that when she first started at the hotel Barbadians were in management positions in Club Sandals, the spa, engineering, security, laundry, housekeeping, human resources, entertainment, loyalty and travel, and most of them were no longer with the hotel for a number of reasons related to the treatment meted out to them.
“I do not believe that Butch Stewart is aware of what is going on there. I don’t think the general manager Ramel Sobrino is aware of what is going on either, because most of what is happening is because of personal likes and dislikes which then influence decisions made that impact on people’s livelihood,” she said.
Another employee acknowledged the difficulties occasioned by the advent of the global pandemic and its effect on employment but noted that COVID-19 was being used for Barbadian workers but not expats. He said that there was no proper structure in terms of who should be rehired, made redundant or given severance.
“The principal of first-in, last-out doesn’t operate at Sandals. There are some us who are senior staffers who are home – since March – and presently there are part-time workers and expats on the property doing some of the work that we used to do.
“There are some of us who are home who have won awards for performance above the call of duty, for loyalty to the hotel, who have impeccable records that are shown from our evaluations but we are still home and expats are doing our jobs,” he said.
Another worker said it was high time that the Labour Department as well as the Immigration Department got a handle on what was going on at the hotel. He said he did not believe that the Immigration Department was paying any attention to the influx of expats to the hotel for jobs and the type of jobs they were coming for.
One senior employer who said he was so frustrated that though he was still on staff, he had no desire to return and just wanted his severance. He complained about disparities in salaries and benefits for Jamaicans compared to those for Barbadians. He explained a payment scheme for expats that he charged ought to be looked into by the relevant tax authorities.
When contacted with the complaints of the aggrieved employees, Sandals public relations manager David Hinds said: “The travel and tourism sector continues to grapple with an unprecedented crisis which has impacted the industry like never before. Even as many stakeholders still try to come to terms with these challenges, Sandals Resort took the bold decision to reopen and support national efforts to restore the economy, in spite of having only single digit occupancy levels.
“We sincerely empathise with all team members as well as all tourism employees in Barbados and throughout the region who are still impacted by the fallout from the total shutdown brought about by the pandemic.
“We wish to assure the people of Barbados that we are sparing no effort to try to get back things to acceptable levels, but the fact is that there continues to be challenges including but not limited to various travel restrictions,” he said.