Severed employees of the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa feel as though they are running out of options in their battle to obtain thousands in outstanding payments more than 15 months after being placed on the breadline and later severed.
Laying bare their frustrations in a letter to Labour Minister Colin Jordan, the workers revealed that after pursuing every legal option with the Labour Department, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), and their former employer, they have been met with “red tape”, bureaucracy” and “misleading information”. Minister Jordan has also been informed of the workers’ decision to seek legal representation on the matters.
When contacted, Chairman of the National Insurance Scheme, Leslie Haynes again promised that the workers’ payments were being processed and that he would be able to provide disbursement dates in two to three weeks.
Heated protests last December prompted Accra to pay full severance to employees with less than five years under their belt and 70 per cent to longstanding employees, with a promise to pay the difference at the end of March this year. After the Rockley, Christ Church hotel broke that promise, the NIS Chairman told Barbados TODAY that the outstanding payments were being processed and would be handed over to them “shortly”. Two months later, the workers say they are still waiting.
Workers are even more concerned about recent amendments to last year’s COVID-19 sunset legislation that require employees seeking severance from the NIS’ severance fund to make a claim at the Severance Payments Tribunal. Initially, the act indicated that persons severed during the period would automatically receive their payments. The amendment also requires that a procedure for investigating and settling claims be made available to management and staff of the NIS.
The hotel is also denying the workers payment in lieu of notice despite previous suggestions from veteran trade unionist Caswell Franklyn to the contrary. Workers have sought advice on their position and guidance from human resources officials at Accra and Chief Labour Officer Claudette Hope to no avail.
“The long and short of it is that nobody ever gets back to us… It’s almost like they are doing it on purpose to try to prolong what is happening and frustrate you,” complained former Accra employee Rhea Straker.
“It’s like if everybody has a gag order in relation to the Accra matter. That is how it feels, because nobody is getting back to us.
“We really would like a meeting with them because we want to know what is happening, so that we would know what steps we would have to take and how we can go about getting the money that is legally owed to us. That is all we want,” she added.
When contacted, the NIS chairman revealed that the matter was raised on Monday at a board meeting and the payments were being processed. He explained that the delay in delivering the funds was because of outstanding information that Accra had only recently delivered.
“This matter did not go the regular way where applications were made and the employee forms came in, this went a different way,” Haynes told Barbados TODAY.
“The position is that in about two to three weeks time, the employees should know when they will be paid. I can’t tell you at this moment when they will be paid, but I will be in a position to give a better estimate in two to three weeks’ time,” the noted attorney added.
Copies of the letter sent to Minister Jordan have been forwarded to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Minister Ryan Straughn, Democratic Labour Party President Verla DePeiza, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore, the Chief Labour Officer and three newspapers including Barbados TODAY.
“It’s not that we are begging for outstanding bonus payments. We just really want what the law says belongs to us and it seems like we can’t get it no matter what. We have done everything legally,” Straker maintained
“All of our protests were legal, everything was legal and we couldn’t get our money. So to me it’s like employers in this country have more rights than the employees, because they can just refuse to pay us the money and continue to operate. That is just the part that is really sad for us. You can’t get what is yours,” the former worker concluded.