By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
SENIOR executives at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort remained tight-lipped yesterday over the purported closure of the all-inclusive Cable Beach resort in less than two weeks.
Despite several inquiries by the Tribune, officials refused to clarify whether the resort intends to close its doors on August 15, with plans to re-open on October 13.
In a letter published on Wednesday in The Nassau Guardian, the resort blamed “circumstances” beyond its control for the pending closure and offered affected guests a chance to re-book their stays with any of the resort chain’s properties throughout the Caribbean.
The letter read: “We appreciate your patience as we work through this challenging time. We have instituted a streamlined and efficient course of action for these guests who may be affected and are extending all of our call centre resources to you.”
The resort’s General Manager Gary Williams declined comment yesterday.
Labour Director, Robert Farquharson said his office was made aware of the potential closure through the media. Moreover, he said, despite his best efforts he could not confirm validity of such reports.
His indication was that labour matters connected to the resort were still being addressed by his department, and at no point was he or his subsidiaries notified of a potential closure.
Reports received by The Tribune suggest that no employee at the resort has been notified of the closure and “all scheduled to work have reported”.
For much of the last month, members of the Bahamas Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) have used media outlets to express their dissatisfaction with the resort for not recognizing it as the official union body in negotiations between workers and the resort.
As part of the group’s most recent demonstration, heavy-duty trucks and buses were parked in along the West Bay Street thoroughfare next to the Sandals property, leading to the arrest of several people.
BHMAWU First Vice President Omar Maynard during an impromptu speech outside the resort that morning criticised hotel executives for their alleged refusal to “sit at the negotiation table” as workers are being made to work in alleged substandard conditions.
It was Mr Maynard’s push that shifted the media attention to the ongoing issues at the resort. He alleged that the resort was infested with mould and overrun by rodents and other pests.
In 2011, the BHMAWU secured a ruling by the Privy Council that it be recognised as the bargaining agent for Sandals Royal Bahamian employees.
Despite this, however, Sandals has refused to negotiate with BHMAWU.
Yesterday, Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner issued a statement calling on the government to immediately address the issue.
“The impending closure of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort at Cable Beach for two months beginning in 12 days is of great concern,” she said.
“The resort employs approximately 400 line staff and under 100 managers. This is a significant staff complement in a tourism economy already reeling from high unemployment and stagnant growth.
Mrs Butler Turner said: “The closure for such a length of time is yet another worrying sign for our troubled tourism industry and will affect other businesses and workers in the tourism sector. The closure comes as many parents are preparing for the opening of the school year.”
The Long Island MP questioned the lengthy time frame of the closure; the level of salary and benefits workers will receive and whether affected individuals will be entitled to National Insurance Board unemployment benefits.
“Will all of the line staff and workers be assured of employment when the resort reopens?” she questioned.
“It should be noted that it has often been a practice in the hotel industry to let go staff after the temporary closure of a hotel or resort. When were senior government officials aware of the closure? According to press reports the Director of Labour appeared to be caught off guard by the closure. The scant notice to workers of a mere 12 days is also of concern.”
Mrs Butler-Turner added: “Most workers have limited savings and rely on their salaries to make ends meet and to pay food, electricity and other bills weekly and monthly.”
“The government must urgently address the questions raised as well as any other concerns of the employees of Sandals.”