Despite more than 100 retrenched Hilton Hotel workers claiming they were frustrated by the refusal of the hotel to pay their final pay and severance packages, general manager Martin Voskamp yesterday said all workers have received what is due to them. The Hilton Hotel, as with most tourism establishments in the country, became a casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic when it was forced to close its doors amidst the national lockdown on 27 March 2020.
The retrenched hotel workers initially told New Era that when they were released from their duties due to the collapse of the tourism sector, which ultimately affected their terms of employment, they were promised a full salary and severance pay from the company.
"They gave us our full salary on 30 May and assured us the remaining amount will be given on 12 June 2020. We went to the hotel yesterday (Monday) but management refused to talk to us," said a member of the aggrieved group. The group claimed that by Monday, only about 5% of them received their severance pay, which they claimed was significantly reduced.
"They only gave 5% of the retrenched employees the payment. The management of Hilton has cut the retrenchment package and we will follow up with them as from tomorrow," said the group, represented by one TK Kamwele.
"We will not compromise on the issue of unnecessary deductions. The management must come forward and explain to us why and how they have deducted the employees' packages. The company is in financial difficulty but the hotel management is not practising communication ethics so both parties could reach an agreement," Kamwele stated.
However, Voskamp yesterday told New Era the retrenched workers would have received their full packages earlier if it had not been for a bank delay. "There were some bank issues which we have managed to sort out and the affected workers only received their money yesterday," said Voskamp. The GM explained that the workers were due their notice pay, severance pay and untaken leave days, from which the hotel made statutory deductions such as taxes, loans and any hotel equipment that was not returned. He added that 125 employees were affected during the first layoffs, while 11 staff were retrenched at a later date, and their full packages are only due on 26 June. Only 50 Hilton staff remain on the hotel's payroll at a significantly reduced salary.
The labour ministry's executive director, Bro-Mathew Shinguadja, urged Hilton hotel employees who were sent on forced, unpaid leave by management to approach the labour unions.
Meanwhile, Voskamp said he anticipates reopening the hotel on 1 August this year, provided that Namibia opens its borders. This is because the Hilton Hotel, like much of Namibia's tourism sector, heavily relies on international travellers for occupancy.
In an earlier interview with New Era, CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia Gitta Paetzold warned that the tourism industry has been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than anyone could have anticipated.
"The fact is that tourism is in for a very hard time this year, and we have been urged to engage authorities and government to assist, where possible, to keep tourism companies afloat and avoid major job losses," she remarked. The appeal from tourism to government is to consider incentives and tax breaks on registered entities to help them overcome acute cashflow shortages as business, even if not cancelled, is being postponed with the likelihood of no, or only limited income for the rest of year.