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Hoteliers wary of wage increase

Ricky Jordan

Hoteliers wary of wage increase

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HOTELIERS are concerned about the possibility of having to increase workers’ wages by more than three per cent this year despite fluctuating occupancy levels and the unpromising coming months.
With the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU)?currently negotiating with hoteliers for a 3.5 per cent increase, Divi Southwinds manager Alvin Jemmott is calling for a cautious approach towards the increase, while others fear it could lead to layoffs in the sector which employs thousands of Barbadians.
President of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Colin Jordan, said while the BWU had not yet made a proposal to the BHTA, members had met to, as he put it, “balance business survival with the real needs of our people”.
“The reality is that we have to work with the BWU to approach this negotiation in a new way – a way yet undetermined, but one that will emerge in the negotiating process,” he said, noting that hoteliers had taken several body blows and were “really hurting”. 
One tourism source stated yesterday that hotel occupancy was as low as 29 per cent for several large hotels while some smaller properties were experiencing as much as 75 per cent occupancy. 
“March is not looking good for a number of hoteliers, who met with the BHTA last week and discussed a proposal of 3.5 per cent, after the union asked for five per cent two years ago and decided to forego an increase last year. In fact, most of the bigger hotels said they could not afford it,” the source said.
Industrial?relations consultant LeVere Richards, who leads the BWU’s hotel negotiations, declined to comment, saying the parties were still at the negotiation stage and would make a statement afterwards.
Jemmott, who is also a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority, said while his hotel’s winter season had started well and was trending toward high occupancy, he still had to be cautious about a wage increase at this time.
“In normal times, this [a good winter] could indicate growth in arrivals over the remainder of the year but these are not normal times,” he said, pointing to the ongoing global recession, as well as developments in Egypt, the airport passenger duty (APD) in Britain and severe weather conditions across North America.
He said even though the APD was expected to be reviewed next month: “I cannot go into a negotiation speculating that this airline tax will be repealed. So this needs to be approached with caution. I am optimistic but my optimism is based only on what has taken place so far. It’s very, very uncertain.
“When you make a commitment that spans an entire year and the belly of that year falls out, what do you do?” 
Jemmott noted that while he didn’t believe hotel employees should be taken advantage of, “it could be like having one big meal now and going hungry for the rest of the year”.
Other hoteliers also pointed out that they had maintained jobs although things had been tight for the last three years, but “if an increase is forced then the possibility of layoffs could arise”.