Special Report: How COVID-19 forced hotels disengage workers

As Nigerians and their government often watch out for the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) updates on COVID-19, it is not sure whether the Nigerian state has any effective mechanisms to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian households and begins the process of pro-poor policy and social safety nets that will alleviate the impact of the pandemic on the vulnerable citizens.

One area the COVID-19 has hit real hard is the tourism industry, and one of the most affected is the hotel industry. Some of the hotel workers who spoke to MAWA FOUNDATION continue to recount their ordeal since the pandemic began.

A senior staff of Capital Global Apartment, a hotel located at the Asokoro area of Abuja, the Nigerian capital city that belongs to the Department of State Security Service (DSSS), while speaking to the MAWA FOUNDATION, narrated how the hotel was collected by the Nigerian government and converted to Isolation Centre leading to its shutdown and the sack of over 120 staff.

He added that the few staff that were not sacked are been paid by the federal ministry of health who retained them to work in the engineering department, Kitchen, housekeeping, and front desk. Blissy Hospitality, a company that manages the hotel having realized that the hotel has liquidated, disengaged all staff, he disclosed to MAWA.

Another senior staff of IBETO Hotel, located at the Apo area of Abuja, while speaking to MAWA on how COVID-19 affected their establishment, disclosed that the hotel has since disengaged a huge number of its staff, leaving only a few workers to take care of the food and beverages.

He added that the Food and Beverages staff before the COVID-19 were over 50 staff, but has been reduced to 15 since the pandemic began. He disclosed that the hotel in many instances now engages casual staff that works and get N2, 500 payments daily.

“It is so bad that we had to disengage a huge number of our staff, and now we have to resort to hiring casual staff we pay N2, 500 daily,” the senior official told MAWA.

A senior official in the Sheraton hotel while speaking to MAWA, disclosed that over 70 staff were retrenched as a result of the COVID-19 that hit the company’s revenue hard. He added that just last week, the hotel retrenched a good number of its permanent staff, but said he does not know the exact figure of persons that were affected.

He added that the company has since canceled all workers union among its staff. An action he said was to weaken worker’s ability to resist any form of injustice that the company may make them pass through in the course of their struggle to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

In the same development, a senior staff of Transcorp hotel Abuja while recounting the impact of COVID-19 on the hotel told MAWA FOUNDATION that the hotel has since placed all staff on contract agreement and canceled all full and permanent staff agreement.

“As we speak now, Transcorp Hotel has canceled all permanent and full staff agreement and placed all workers on contract staff agreement”

He added that the policy to keep all workers on contract agreement happened after the hotel had sacked huge number of staff as a result of the COVID-19. Although the sacked staff protested but were not called back to work, he told MAWA.

At Top Rank Hotel located at the Area 11 part of Abuja, a senior staff of the hotel while recounting how COVID-19 has adversely affected the hotel, told MAWA Foundation that they had over 200 staff before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now have below 60 as a result of the economic crisis the pandemic threw at them.

“Before the pandemic, Top Rank hotel had over 200 staff, but since the pandemic, we are finding it very difficult to keep below 60 staff capacity”, a senior official told MAWA.

He added that despite sacking a huge number of workers, the hotel was forced to reduce staff salary by 60%. This is even as he said the hotel before the pandemic, made N24 million monthly, but since the pandemic, it struggles to make N10 million every month.

“Before the COVID-19, Top Rank Hotel made N24 million monthly, but since the pandemic began, we now struggle to make N10 million every month,” the official told MAWA.

A former staff of Top Rank Hotel, who spoke to MAWA and did not want his identity revealed, narrated how workers were forced to sleep at the office for a week because the salary paid to them was not enough to cover their transport going home every day. He, however, added that they were disengaged without any form of compensation. This is even as he pointed out that the hotel did not officially give them sacked letters, but stopped paying them salaries which forced many of them to leave and start looking for job in other places.

“Life was hell when I got disengaged by the Top Rank Hotel as a result of COVID-19,  then my daughter was just seven months, I could not afford N50 to buy her pap, it was a difficult and painful experience for me,” he told MAWA.

Miss Benedicta, while speaking to the MAWA Foundation at her Masaka residence, narrated how she was sacked by her employer, Privia Hotel, and four others as a result of the COVID-19.

Benedicta explained that she was sacked by the hotel management together with four others because the hotel could not generate income to pay their salaries.

She however added that before she was officially asked to leave, the hotel management owes her over three months’ salaries which she left without been paid.

When MAWA visited the Privia hotel, located along Keffi-Abuja road, two of the staff confirmed that five of its staff were disengaged, but said there were not sacked, pointing out they were asked to go home pending when things improve while they will resume their duty.

A security man at the gate, who does not want his name mentioned, told MAWA that COVID-19 destroyed the hotel and rendered it impotent.

“Oga, before coronavirus, there is no space in this hotel, cars were parked everywhere, but since the pandemic started, everybody ran away, this place is now empty,” he told the MAWA team.

“We are dying of poverty and hunger, it will not go well with those who brought coronavirus,” the security man at the gate said.

Maina Gate Hotel, located in the Kabayi area of Nasarawa state narrated how it had a booming business until COVID -19  pandemic outbreak destroyed their business pushing them back to scratch.

While speaking to MAWA Foundation, its manager Mr. James Ibro, explained how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting the hotel business leading to loss of revenue.

Lamenting the effect of COVID – 19, he explained that before the pandemic started they usually have their rooms fully booked by guests.

But since the pandemic, they struggle to have four guests a day, making the hotel face a huge challenge in raising revenues for its operation and sustainability.

He said the hotel has 29 rooms, big ones at the rate of N6, 750, and small ones at the rate of N4, 750. The

In the same trend, the management of Crystal Guest House located at the Keffi, GRA area in Nasarawa, also recounted how the COVID-19 outbreak has crippled its business and made things more difficult.

Mr. Tanze Lucas, Crystal Guest House, Manager Operation while speaking to MAWA FOUNDATION in his office, said the outbreak of coronavirus completely crippled their hotel business.

Lucas said their main customers are students of Nasarawa State University Keffi who are mainly post-graduate students who usually lodge in the hotel during weekends to attend lectures.

Lucas, however, pointed out that since the pandemic began the hotel has completely gone down because its major customers no longer patronize it like before.

He pointed out that apart from the students not coming to book rooms, ministries departments and agencies that usually come from Abuja to hold meetings at the hotel have stopped since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Lucas told MAWA that the impact of coronavirus forced the hotel management to disengage 13 of its staff because the management could not generate income to pay their salaries.

“Before the coronavirus, our hotels were fully booked especially during weekends, but since the pandemic, we find it difficult to have four bookings a day,” Lucas said.

This is even as he told MAWA that the hotel management brought down its price by 40% to encourage its customers to continue the patronage but that has not helped.

Lucas, however, lamented that despite poor turnover and a business that is near collapse, the Keffi local government revenue agency often comes to the hotel and demands they pay bills or be closed.

He explained how the Keffi local government revenue personnel seized their hotel television set when they could not find money to pay the revenue they demanded.

This report is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa OSIWA

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