Yesterday, Wednesday, 19 July, members of the Cabinet met senior representatives of Sandals Resort International to discuss the proposed closure of the Sandals Resort in Antigua for five months.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the Sandals representatives recognised the government’s resolve that the Resort will not be closed for five months.
Instead, the representatives gave the undertaking that the period of closure for what the representatives described as ‘urgent repairs, would be reduced, taking account of the government’s insistence on three months.
Unlike the statement made in a letter of today’s date the undertaking given to the government was not unclear; it was specific and pellucid.
We note that, in a letter to the General Secretary of the Antigua Workers Union (AWU), the Manager of Sandals Grande Antigua, committed only “to make every effort to reduce the period of repairs to three months”.
The government will hold the Resort’s owners and managers to the undertaking on which the government insisted.
We expect that, in the interest, of the workers, the AWU will join the government’s determination in ensuring that the period of three months is fully respected.
The Cabinet also discussed with the Sandals senior representatives vacation pay and other payments to which the workers are entitled.
We note that in the letter to the AWU General Secretary, the commitment given by the Sandals Manager is not as precise.
He offered only “to work together to address other areas of concern”.
Again, we expect that the Union will join the government’s resolve to protect the workers’ interests.
The suddenly announced closure of the Sandals resort for five months, without providing any time for planning for such an eventuality, is clearly unacceptable because of the confusion it would cause for the Hotel’s workers and for the tourism industry.
Had Sandals given adequate notice of closure for repairs, the Government would have taken every step to shorten that time and to advise all industry partners, locally and internationally, of this development in ways that would have created the least disruption.
It is most unfortunate that this development was sprung upon the country, the industry and the workers at the hotel.
Even despite the lack of proper notice, the Government yesterday offered to waive all duties and other fees on all materials and other goods required to carry out the repairs within three months.
It will be recalled that the Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda have already given considerable tax-free concessions to Sandals Resort, and only recently, even more allowances were granted over the payment of ABST which had been collected and not paid to the Treasury.
But, co-operation is a two-way process.
The government and people of Antigua and Barbuda have provided significant concessions to Sandals which increases its profitability; the country is entitled to at least a minimum return on its substantial allowances to the Resort.
Closing the hotel for five months is not only discourteous; it is harmful.
In this regard, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, in keeping with its duty of care for the workers in the hotel industry and for the people of Antigua and Barbuda as a whole, expects all hoteliers to treat the country and its workers with respect.
And, we will not allow disregard for the rights of the country and its people.
We will insist that the undertakings given by the Sandals Representatives at yesterday’s meeting with Cabinet members be fully implemented.
We thank all the hoteliers who demonstrate an attitude of shared and conscientiousness for the industry and for Antigua and Barbuda.