- On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, this journalist met with a Bermudian employee, employed by Fairmont Southampton shortly after the hotel’s management met with staff in groups, to discuss the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the hotel’s plans for reopening. The employee, who spoke with Bermuda Real on the condition of anonymity stated outright that he left that meeting with more questions than answers only to be told that there will be a follow up meeting in two weeks. That was more than three weeks ago with no official word yet on what the hotel’s management team plans to do. All this while the unemployment benefit funds extended for two weeks expires on Friday, August 7, 2020. The extension was granted to allow time for people still in need of financial help due to unemployment to “transition to Financial Assistance”. Here’s the issue: We still don’t know how many people that will be or whether or not there will be tsunami of applications. But one thing’s for sure – it takes MORE that two weeks from the time you fill out the application for Financial Assistance until the time your first cheque is received. How this Bermudian man, with a family to feed plans to deal with all of this – here’s what he had to say about the long and winding and financially strapped road that lies ahead of him. For reference, we’ll call him Mr South P…
With an estimated 600 employees employed by Fairmont Southampton, roughly half of them are foreign workers on work permits and by now, most of them have left, leaving approximately 300 Bermudians still unemployed at the the South Shore resort hotel.
Mr South P said he emerged from the hotel management team’s meeting with staff three weeks ago with more questions than answers.
“The concerns held by a lot of staff was that even if the place reopens in September/October, it’s going be so much deductions as far as payroll tax and health insurance, etc.
“We asked management how they plan to manage that and they said they’re going to do it in a moderate way,” he said.
“Like if you just make $400 and you have $400 in deductions they are not going to chop your whole pay cheque – that’s what they normally do anyway.
“But if the insurance companies and doctor’s officers were closed during the initial lock down, what’s the point of taking all my money?
“All this while the hospital was trying to discourage you from coming to the hospital unless you’re almost in a life-threatening condition. So they were taking our money out for insurance for nothing!”
Asked what they were saying in terms of books or cancellations, he said: “Officially they’re saying nothing! They are neither confirming or denying that they have bookings or cancellations.
“Now my boys down Hamilton Princess tell me that they’re reopening in August on the first. I haven’t heard nothing about their bookings but they should be alright and I’m going tell you why. They operate a primarily business hotel anyway.
“They’re one of the few hotels that stay at 50 percent occupancy during the winter months because they have business clientele who only come in for one or two days to do some business and then they’re gone. So they’re a business hotel, so they should be alright because they are come in and do business in reinsurance and exempt company business. They used to pop in for a couple of days and then they are gone. So they turnover their rooms good – so they should be alright.”
But he said: “At Fairmont Southampton – these people – I think they just don’t have a clue. They have the golf course and restaurant open and the spa is open.
“I don’t get the vibe that they are being malicious, I just think they don’t have a clue as to what they’re going to do,” he added.
“I got the feeling that the hotel’s General Manager was being genuine – I just don’t think he has a clue. He said they just don’t know and that they’re going to give us another update in two weeks.”
That was three weeks ago and at the end of this week, on August 7, the unemployment benefits extended for another two weeks past the July 25 deadline will be finished at a cost of millions.
According to the newly appointed Minister of Labour, Jason Hayward, the two week extension would allow time for the people left unemployed due to this global pandemic to transition to Financial Assistance.
Those workers include countless hospitality industry workers still out of work, including the hotel employees employed by Fairmont Southampton.
But here’s the thing – transitioning to Financial Assistance takes more than two weeks from the time the application is submitted to the time when that first cheque comes in after approval.
What happens for those families in the interim? You’re not hearing that part of the story from the powers that be – not yet anyway!
And just how many people rushing in to apply for Financial Assistance – no word on that yet. Will there be a tsunami of applicants? Only time will tell.
What it means for this hotel worker and the hundreds of employees at Fairmont Southampton, in terms of dollars and cents was not hopeful.
The bottom line for this hotel’s Bermudian employees, it means NO MONEY to live or eat!
“And it does not feet good,” said Mr South P.
“Especially when they’ve got this ‘Heartist Fund’ talking about the staff is the ‘heart’ of the house and they’re leaving us with nonthing!
“But this hotel got $25 million for renovations. The place is still in good condition – don’t get me wrong – it’s a four star hotel.
“Yes some of the carpet could probably get redone but it still looks beautiful overall. Why don’t you shave off a piece of that $25 million and make sure that we are taken care of for the next year like what the Green family is doing for their staff at Hamilton Princess.
“Even the Green family, if you look, two years ago the Green family took Fairmont to court but really the Green family wanted to install the Ritz Carlton model because they didn’t like how Fairmont was running the place. It didn’t happen.
“I think Fairmont is just a ruthless company – they’re not used to dealing with people who have some union rights, who stand up to them. They’re just used to chopping and changing,” he added.
“Some people are kind of safe, meaning the engineering crew – they’re safe because you’ve got to run all of the facilities. Security is safe. Housekeepers are not safe – laundry staff – not safe. The dining room staff – not safe!
“They said they have some ideas of just opening up the beach and the beach restaurants, which makes more sense.
“If the COVID is a thing where you have to have a ventilated place use the two beach restaurants you have, which is the Cabana Bar and Ocean Club. But they’re like they don’t know what to do and I don’t think they have enough sufficient pressure from either the union or government.”
Asked what his union representatives have had to say on this issue, he said: “They haven’t said f–ks!
“To me it seems like there is no leadership.
“But as far as I’m concerned, right now Fairmont can treat us Bermudians a lot better than this – they can treat us like the Green family is treating their staff at Hamilton Princess,” he said.
“At Fairmont the mantra is – you say that this is a ‘Heartist Moment” and that the staff is the heart of this operation – that’s a lot of bulls–t! It’s hypocrisy!”
He also noted that “most of the foreign staff have gone back home”.
But he said when it comes down to the local staff – that’s another story.
“If you’re got 600 full time staff and half of them are gone that means you don’t have to take care of 600 employees – you only have about half still here,” said Mr South P.
“My biggest concern coming out of this meeting is the lack of leadership.”
Asked for his take on Bermuda’s Tourism plan moving forward, he asked: “What tourism plan?
“We’re still doing business with the same old hotel philosophy for the last one hundred years, which is to only go for rich, white or upper middle income visitors from the east coast. We have to diversify our Bermuda Tourism product,” he said.
“Jamaica’s got charters coming in from all over the world you know and we keep flogging the same dead horse because I think the PLP – they’re my party but I think they are a little afraid to actually chop into these bast—ds!
“What they should do – I’ve got friends from Jamaica and they say 50 percent of the flights that come to Jamaica are charter groups. But in Bermuda you only have American Airlines, US Air – it’s like a little syndicate. And the PLP should say look we’re going start bringing in regular charters. If they were creative and inventive they would say regular charters even if they don’t make money at least they would break even.
“It don’t cost us nothing because guess what, the average guests comes here and the statistics say the average guest spends $300 to $400 a day. So that’s money that’s being generated within the society – Bermuda’s economy. So why you just don’t do that?”
“You bring the charter flights in and make it as low cost as you can!
“You’re telling me I could go Jamaica but at the height of the season you’re telling me it costs $900 to come to Bermuda but I could go to Jamaica for $1,100 – $200 more all inclusive for a week.
“I go to Bermuda for a week on a $900 ticket and nothing else. I go to Jamaica, which is further away and I pay $1,100 which is going to pay for my airfare, my hotel room for five nights all inclusive, plus my plane ticket – really! But see the charters bring the airfare costs down. How come American Airlines flies to Jamaica look it up on their websites, how comes it’s cheaper to go a longer distance?
“The only thing we have more per capita than Jamaica is golf and they’ve got good golf courses too!”
With the 2020 tourism season virtually shot, technically, hotel workers will be faced with financial struggles through to next April 2021 and we still don’t know what that will look like in terms of tourist arrivals either by air or by sea.
Efforts to reach get a response and/or update from the hotel’s management continue.