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Laid-off expats ‘heartbroken’ to leave

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Expatriate hotel workers said yesterday they were “heartbroken” to leave the island after more than a decade as they sold off household items.

Staff at the Fairmont Southampton said up to 150 expatriate workers had started to pack their bags as layoffs at the hotel were expected to become redundancies.

Catherine Lee Kurmi said she and her husband, Sumeet, were sad to leave the island after 11 years at the hotel.

She added: “We have been waiting to find out what's happening with the hotel and when it will reopen and when we can return to work — when the world will return to work — but we recently found out it's going to be a while before expats can work at the hotel and in Bermuda.

“Everyone is aware that a lot of Bermudians have been laid off and this is one of the main reasons why we have been asked to go home.

“We understand that, but it's unfortunate because we have been here for 11 years. We have twin babies that are ten months old and this is our home.”

She added: “We have a lot of beautiful memories and we have committed a lot of hours in the hotel. My husband has worked literal 100-hour work weeks for ten years.

“To have that much commitment to a hotel and an island and a community, and then be told to leave is heartbreaking. We are heartbroken.”

Mrs Kurmi said the couple were still not sure where they would go or what they would do next, as she is Canadian and her husband is from India.

She added: “India isn't really safe right now and Canada is very expensive and needs a two-week quarantine — we can't afford that, either.

“We are going to wait and see what we can do and how we can manage, but we aren't comfortable returning to the hospitality industry until there's a vaccine.

“My husband's father is in his seventies, we have ten-month-old babies, he has high blood pressure and I have asthma. It's challenging.”

She was speaking as a group of Fairmont staff members scheduled to leave held a yard sale in Warwick over the weekend, with everything from clothes and books to a motorcycle up for grabs.

Another worker, who asked not to be named, said: “We have had meetings at the hotel and every meeting just gets more bleak.

“The last meeting we had, they asked us when we were buying our plane tickets home.

“It went from a small chance to ‘when are you leaving?'”

The worker, who had worked at the hotel for two years, said many expatriate workers had been told their work permits would likely not be renewed and that they would be made redundant in October.

The worker said: “They are kind of pushing us off the island before October, so we are selling all of our personal stuff so we can have at least a little money for travelling.

“I would say there are about 150 people in this situation, and that's just colleagues. That's not including their wives and spouses.

“Some of them have been here for 15 to 20 years.”

He said that many guest workers who had come to Bermuda had hoped to build a life on the island.

He added: “Now it has all stopped. It's a long process to get here — there are a lot of applications and permits — so once you get here it's nice to stay, but now we have to leave and start from scratch again.” Other Fairmont employees said they wanted to make the best of the situation.

Dave Woodit, originally from Mauritius, said: “I'm so happy to go home. For me, it is a reset of my life.

“I have been here 13 years — it is a lifetime — but I was missing something.

“This is a chance to reset myself and start a new life.”

He added: “Now that I am starting to pack up, I am starting to feel sadness.

“I feel local. I'm not a permanent resident and I'm not Bermudian, but I feel local. I live here. I shop here and I worked here for 13 years, but now I'm starting that sadness of leaving Bermuda.

“I do wish that I will get work back at Fairmont again, but I feel like my life is going to change.”

His wife, Lisa, said the couple would likely return to Mauritius.

She said: “I have mixed feelings. I'm excited because our life is going to change, but it has had a lot of ups and downs throughout the process.

“There's been a lot of uncertainty and instability and we didn't know when they are going to reopen, so that just added another level of stress.

“They might open later than other places do, but hopefully they will bring us back.”

A spokesman for the hotel did not respond to a request for comment as of press time last night.

The Fairmont Southampton closed its doors in March because of the spread of Covid-19 and the bulk of hotel staff were laid off.

Some have returned to work as the island has reopened, such as golf course employees and staff at the Boundary sports bar and grill.

Kiaran MacDonald, the hotel's general manager, said last week they hoped to reopen on Saturday, but the date was “a place holder”, as much would depend on the volume of business and if Covid-19 remained under control.

Excess baggage: laid-off Fairmont Southampton staff host a yard sale in advance of their expected departure from the island (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

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Published July 27, 2020 at 2:00 pm (Updated July 27, 2020 at 12:24 pm)

Laid-off expats ‘heartbroken’ to leave

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