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Fairmont workers facing eviction

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Fairmont Southampton employees that were made redundant gather outside the hotel in protest and demand their pay (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Thomas Jones, Bermuda Industrial Union representative, leads the protest by a group of Fairmont Southampton employees that were made redundant (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
The Fairmont Southampton (File photograph)

Hotel workers made redundant from the Fairmont Southampton are facing eviction from their homes, unable to pay bills or even buy food.

About 30 workers showed up at the hotel yesterday morning in protest over what they claimed to be a lack of guarantees from management for redundancy pay.

Kiaran MacDonald, the hotel’s general manager, told The Royal Gazette yesterday that he was “increasingly confident” that the workers would be paid by November 20, a month later than originally scheduled.

One worker said she was being evicted from her home.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Royal Gazette: “I have no money and the bills are piling up. I have an eviction notice in the place I have lived for ten years because of this situation. I applied for financial assistance in August but have not heard a word.”

Another unnamed guest worker who has been living at the hotel said he and other colleagues staying there were served eviction notices effective yesterday.

He called it “a sudden change in their mind to kick us from our room and stay on the street, maybe to beg for food and sleep on the street, since I have no money to pay for the rental.”

One worker said: “If you come to my house, you will see my fridge is empty except for two chickens that a friend bought for me.

"I think government should have kept hotel workers on the subsidy programme — and when they find a job, take them off."

Another worker said she feared she would not be able to pay for her medication.

"I went to the pharmacy to get my medication and they said I had to pay for them first, then take the bill to the insurance company,“ she said. ”I don’t have the money to pay for them.

“Next week I will be late for my medications; I could end up in hospital if I don’t take them."

It was revealed last month that hundreds of hotel workers faced redundancy because of the Fairmont Southampton’s temporary closure.

The 18-month shuttering for renovations would mean about 750 layoffs, roughly 500 of them Bermudian.

Gencom, an investment firm based in Miami, acquired the resort in December 2019 and announced plans then for widespread upgrades.

Mr MacDonald said: “This year brought an unprecedented crisis for businesses around the world. The Fairmont Southampton never anticipated having to close its doors. We anticipated the renovation of the hotel, but we prematurely closed in March and as a result we incurred enormous losses. There was no expectation for funding to be reserved for redundancy for 750 colleagues.

“We completely accept our responsibility for all redundancies owed. However, this is a very complex situation in terms of pulling those funds together.

“Our colleagues are looking for a guarantee today, but I am not in a position to guarantee. I am increasingly confident that monies will be available for redundancy pay by November 20 and that everyone is working very hard to achieve that goal.”

Asked why staff were told they could be paid yesterday, only for the date to be moved back by a month, Mr MacDonald added: “The monies we had anticipated had not become available. I am not privy to how it is being financed. We are working closely with our owners to ensure that those monies are paid.

“I have expressed our heartfelt apologies to the staff, but assured them we are doing everything we can to assure them.”

Some staff had questioned why the hotel would not house destitute staff members in accommodations it owned.

A spokeswoman from The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda, said: “For whatever reason the hotel has, they won't accommodate them in their other facilities, like the one by Astwood Cove and on Faraway [both in Warwick].”

Asked whether that was a possibility, Mr MacDonald told The Royal Gazette: “No, we can’t accommodate them.”

Thomas Jones, of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said during the protest: “Someone needs to come forward and answer our questions. Families are being destroyed; enough is enough."

Mr Jones added he was disappointed that no Bermuda Government representative attended.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, said his ministry had been in contact with the workers’ union representative and that Gencom said the employees would receive redundancy payments on or before November 20.

Mr Hayward said: “The Bermuda Government accepts that this is one of the largest number of redundancies ever made in Bermuda by a single employer, and as such creates a level of complexity to execute.

“However, I again want to reassure the workers that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Finance will continue to actively engage with industry stakeholders to support them and ensure their rights are protected.”

He reminded employers of their legal responsibility to pay severance allowance under Section 23 of the Employment Act 2000 and any relevant collective bargaining agreement.

“I asked for a Gencom representative to come out and speak to us but he said they left the island yesterday.

“He said that he is working very diligently but that Gencom is responsible for paying the staff.

“Mr MacDonald said he would fight for the money to be paid.”

Mr Jones said Mr MacDonald claimed that Gencom had a loan to pay staff but due to Covid the money was frozen.

However, Mr MacDonald told The Royal Gazette that the loan he referred to as not being secured was in relation to refurbishment funds, not redundancy pay.

Mr Jones said he was going to set up a GoFundMe account to try to raise money to help the workers.

Mr MacDonald later invited workers inside the hotel for discussions and addressed them in the lobby.

Mr Hayward said his labour ministry had been in contact with the workers’ union representative and that Gencom said the employees would receive redundancy payments on or before November 20.

He said: “The Bermuda Government accepts that this is one of the largest number of redundancies ever made in Bermuda by a single employer and as such creates a level of complexity to execute.

“However, I again want to reassure the workers that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Finance, will continue to actively engage with industry stakeholders to support them and ensure their rights are protected.”

Mr Hayward reminded employers of their legal responsibility to pay severance allowance under Section 23 of the Employment Act 2000 and any relevant Collective Bargaining Agreement.

UPDATE: this story has been updated to include comment from the Minister of Labour.

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Published October 24, 2020 at 1:45 pm (Updated October 24, 2020 at 1:45 pm)

Fairmont workers facing eviction

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