Labour ministry’s executive director Bro-Mathew Shinguadja yesterday urged Hilton hotel employees, who were last week sent on forced, unpaid leave by the five-star hotel management, to approach the labour unions.
Last week Thursday, the general manager of Hilton, Martin Voskamp, wrote to the hotel’s 190 workforce, notifying them of the hotel’s unilateral decision to put its entire workforce on mandatory unpaid leave.
His letter comes on the heels of the labour ministry advising employers to avoid forcing employees to take unpaid leave during the mandatory 21-day Coronavirus lockdown, saying the practice is illegal and unacceptable.
“It has been noted that some employers are forcing their employees to take annual leave or be on unpaid leave. This practice should be avoided at all cost and if any kind of leave is to be taken, it should be mutually agreed. Forced unpaid leave is illegal and hence unacceptable,” Shinguadja stated.
Shinguadja had urged all employers to ensure employees are fully remunerated for March and April, adding that should the crisis persist, further arrangements would be put in place through genuine consultations.
“Following the team forum on 19 March 2020, this letter serves to inform you that in view of the announcement lockdown by government as of Saturday morning, each team member will be required to take mandatory unpaid leave for an initial period of two months, as from 10 April 2020 until 31 May 2020,” read Voskamp’s letter dated 26 March 2020.
Shinguadja, in response to Voskamp’s letter, yesterday urged Hilton employees to immediately raise the issue with their unions before they can urge the labour ministry to intervene.
“Union needs to act accordingly. I need employees to immediately report to the union leaders. I understand they are still available in Windhoek. Only thereafter will the ministry step in if parties cannot find a solution,” Shinguandja said.
Meanwhile, the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) says the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in major cancellations, especially business meetings and conferencing.
The tourism industry is one of the sectors hardest-hit by the global pandemic because its life-blood, the tourists, have dried up.
HAN Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gitta Paetzold recently told New Era that some major companies and organisations, including SADC, have cancelled call conferencing.
“Our industry is currently feeling the storm, worse than anyone could have anticipated a few weeks or even days ago,” she reacted. She said renowned and successful operators feel as a “worst-case scenario”, they are expecting a decline of 50% of the tourism business this year. “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 the acute cashflow that is envisaged, as business, even if not cancelled, is being postponed, with the likelihood of no, or only limited income for the rest of year.
“One saving grace is that Namibia is currently still in low tourism season. So, the low numbers are not reflective of corona, but we have seen massive cancellations and the lack of forward bookings of over 33%, compared to the standard rate of bookings at this time of the year. Even the postponement of travel plans to the next year in effect means the tourism business will be without income this year. Only very few companies have enough reserves and cash flow to survive such a scenario,” she observed. Paetzold noted 35% of people have an overall fear or hesitancy to travel at this point. “It seems that while people may not be afraid of contracting the virus when travelling to Namibia and other destinations, they fear being quarantined there on arrival; hence, they don’t even want to travel. Strange sounds to that effect have come out of Botswana lately suggesting to quarantine all incoming travellers from countries with confirmed corona cases, and as the situation progresses, this may be the whole world soon,” she noted.
She said the tourism industry has, thus, urged the government to keep its borders open, and HAN is assured by the ministry of health that for now, they are following WHO guidelines that advised against blanket travel bans. – firstname.lastname@example.org