Hard-hit Hilton hotel in talks to let Durban workers go

One of the premier hotel chains in the country is contemplating the retrenchment of 145 staff members at the Durban Hilton hotel in light of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism industry.

In a letter to employees, seen by SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE, the hotel said it had started a consultation process as it was considering closing the hotel until the tourism industry recovered from the effects of the pandemic.

"As this impact is likely to stretch well into 2021, it will be prejudicial and unsettling to the employees to be expected to be at home on unpaid leave for a long indefinite period. Moreover, it is very unlikely the UIF CV19 Ters assistance will be available to the employer and the employee for an extended period," general manager Vikram Jamwal said in the letter.

On Tuesday, Maureen Gumede, who has worked at the hotel for 21 years, joined about 60 employees who protested outside the hotel, saying they had not received their UIF payments and  retrenchment could not be a conversation until they were paid.

"I have not received my UIF money. I have no way to make a living. I used the last R20 I had to come here because we are hungry and our fridges are empty," said Gumede.

Gumede said she was paid R1,500, most of which was taken by her bank through deductions. She said she had not paid her rent for this month and did not know what to tell her landlord, who expected the money by Tuesday.

"When we came here about two weeks ago, they told us they had applied [for the UIF temporary employer/employee relief scheme] for us and we must wait for six to seven days, and that the money was on the way. Until this day, we are waiting, " said Gumede.

Another employee, Lindokuhle Dube, said  it was "unfair" for management to call them in to talk about retrenchments when they haven't been paid.

"Before we talk about retrenchments we want our money. Then we can talk about saving our jobs, retrenching us or other ideas," said Dube who has worked at the hotel for three years.

In a statement to media, the hotel said the pandemic had "unprecedented challenges for our industry and with travel at a virtual standstill, operations have been suspended across many hotels, including Hilton Durban".

"Following a discussion with the owner of the hotel, we have had to take the difficult decision to begin a consultation period for a number of team members at the property. We will continue to support those who have been impacted where feasible, and will welcome applications from these individuals as occupancies increase and we are able to hire."

The hotel chain said it was still planning to open a new property in Umhlanga towards the end of the year.

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