By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THAT Island Luck employees were seemingly threatened with a loss of pay if they failed to attend Thursday’s protest is a “blatant, naked attempt to take advantage of poor people”, Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.
Tribune Business last week confirmed the validity of an internal Island Luck staff memo which said attendance at the protest was “mandatory” for people scheduled to work Thursday morning.
While Island Luck sources have denied the pay-cut threat, the memo said: “Failure to sign in and sign out will result in a pay cut for the day.”
Yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar said the revelation blunts the momentum the web shops may have gained while fighting the government’s decision to hike their taxes.
“If true then clearly this protest was not something that organically came about,” he said. “This was rent-a-crowd. The crowd was motivated and incentivised to turn out not because of any passionate dislike for what the government was doing but more that their owners were pressuring them to participate and I have a number of constituents who work for these gaming houses and they assured me that they really did not want to go out there but if they did not their job was in jeopardy or they would be cut that day. It’s not democracy . . . but if you’re a minimum wage employee as most of the gaming house employees are, you’re afraid and you’re not gonna take on the powerful and well monied operators of the gaming houses over this issue so you’re just going to comply.”
He said: “I think the revelation that the gaming houses make so much money and the fact that all of the profits except for minimum wage accrues to the owners in obscene amounts is probably causing people to take stock and say ‘hold it now, what am I fighting for? I getting minimum wage and they getting, between the seven of them, $50 million a year and I fighting for them and they paying me minimum wage?’ Now if they paid substantial salaries and people were feeling some of that, they might have got a better buy-in.”
Mr D’Aguilar said he empathises much more with people who protest the impending 60 percent increase in value added tax than those who protest the rising gaming taxes.
“I could understand frustration with the increase in value added tax,” he said. “There is genuine frustration with that and I’m frustrated too. Every time governments abuse the public purse it’s like they turn around to the electorate and they say ‘look you got to pay more’ and it’s like ‘man y’all just get your act together and manage the public purse properly. In the name of Jesus live within your means.’ So from that perspective I could be frustrated. The average person did nothing wrong. They paid their taxes and the government overspent and now the people are being called upon to pay. But I think it’s pretty common knowledge everybody found it quite reprehensible the tactics used to rent-a-crowd which were so open and obvious. You could have said look, ‘we’re going to close the shops and if you want to come, come.’ That would have been a better approach.”
Under the government’s proposed sliding scale, web shops will pay a 20 percent tax on up to $20 million of their revenue, a 25 percent tax on between $20 million and $40 million of their revenue, a 30 percent tax on between $40 million and $60 million of their revenue, a 35 tax percent on between $60 million and $80 million of their revenue, a 40 percent tax on between $80 million and $100 million of their revenue and 50 percent on revenue above $100 million.
Mr D’Aguilar has said only five percent of net gaming revenue will fall in the sixth category while half of such revenue will fall in the first category.
Yesterday, Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell called the narrative that Thursday’s protest involved a rent-a-crowd “rubbish.” Stay tuned, he said, another march is coming. The PLP supported the protest and many PLP members were part of the demonstration.
“They have to come up with a rationale because thousands of people were in the streets one year after the election and they are embarrassed,” Mr Mitchell said. “The question of who those people were was irrelevant because the fact is it was thousands of people protesting their actions.”
“Stand by. Brace for what’s to come. We coming for them.”
The Tribune and other media outlets reported that hundreds of people took part in Thursday’s protest, which became chaotic at times.