By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE union representing hotel workers in the country yesterday predicted widespread work day reductions in view of the global COVID-19 pandemic, while warning that things could get worse before they get better.
Darren Woods, Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union president, told The Tribune yesterday that work reductions were expected, adding thousands of people in the hotel sector should not panic.
He said union officials were working on a contingency plan, with a large part of it to be hashed out at a meeting with government at some point today.
However, Mr Woods said it was difficult to say how long the slump could last.
The union chief’s words came a day after the closure of Club Med on San Salvador this week was confirmed – the fall out from government’s travel restrictions on parts of Europe. Around 90 percent of that hotel’s guests are from that region, Mr Woods said.
Baha Mar also told this newspaper yesterday that it was adjusting the staff complement to match operations while the Sandals resort said it was monitoring the situation daily.
On Monday, Atlantis asked its staff members to either take two weeks unpaid leave or take earned vacation days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hilton hotel on Bay Street sent a similar letter to staff on Tuesday, Mr Woods confirmed.
“I think everyone should be working reduced days,” the BHCAWU president said. “We anticipate all of the hotels are going to follow suit once there is a reduction in the flights or any act of God. Based on our contract, there will be reduced days.”
He also said: “This is nothing out of the norm. This would happen even if it were September. But it just so happens that something now has caused it and so now we have to adjust to what it is.
“We are still in talks with them and there is a meeting with government officials tomorrow to kind of map the way forward because we need to kind of get an understanding and it’s hard to forecast how long this is going to be for.
“But you have to project something so you could know what it is that you want to do, when you want to do it (and) how you want to do it because something has to be put in place. You need to know from each agency, the employer, the union and the government what is going to be in place for workers across the country because this is not only going to be limited to the hotel sector.
“This will matriculate over to other sectors because there are a lot of sectors that rely on the hotel sector. You have hair braiders, you have jet ski operators, you have taxi operators, the restaurants, this is going to be widespread, unless something happens rather quickly.”
Given the challenge in predicting how long the pandemic will affect the nation’s number one industry, Mr Woods said workers should brace themselves.
“What we would say to them is don’t panic at this time. We would say don’t do anything at this time until we kind of see where this thing is going or how long it’s going to last because they still have this week’s payroll and next week’s payroll. So this is at least two weeks out before there is any affect on them financially and so by that time whatever has to be discussed and whatever we are working on we will be able to see how phased in the relief is going to be,” he said.
“But we expect something to happen. Let’s use all our efforts to concentrate on this because you don’t want to be running around. We are hoping it doesn’t get worse but it might get a little bit worse before it gets better, but all of the stakeholders are meeting to try and put some contingency plans in place to roll out relatively as quick as possible.”
Baha Mar is also said to be experiencing fall out from COVID-19.
Yesterday, Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, said the mega West Bay Street resort had experienced considerable slow down of bookings.
However, the only official decision made in response to date has been to adjust staffing levels to operations, Mr Sands said.
Asked whether there had been reservation cancellations, he said: “Cancellations are not the issue, the issue more so is bookings. They have slowed down considerably.”
Despite this, Mr Sands reiterated that Baha Mar had not come to the point where it would perhaps follow recent measures taken by Atlantis.
“…Hotel occupancies fluctuate on an annualised basis,” he explained. “You are aware that we have our peak season and we have our off peak season. We have hurricane season and we’ve always adjusted our manpower levels according to the demands of our business.
“We are not at any point at this time to make any other decision regarding manpower needs and when we do do that we will advise our associates that we have come to that point, but we are not there yet.”
Meanwhile at the Sandals resort, Sheryl McGaw-Douse, group manager of communications and public relations, in a brief email said: “Sandals resort is assessing the situation daily as the care, health and safety of our team members and our guests are foremost in our minds at this time.”