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HOTELIERS FACE DOUBLE TRAGEDY OVER GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

By NBF News
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Leke Success
Comrade Leke Success, President of the National Union of Hotels and Personal Service Workers (NUPHSW), is one of the rare breed labour leaders, who is more interested in service than personal aggrandizement.

As a leader, his achievement in his first term in a union hitherto characterized with crisis was awesome.

However, he believes that the hotel industry could have been better but for poor infrastructure, while the situation was worsened by the global economic meltdown

Excerpts.
Challenges of economic meltdown to the hotel industry

Before the global meltdown, we have our own internal challenges in terms of infrastructure malfunction such as power. Our hotels have been running at a very high cost. Since the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has not been effective, entrepreneurs in the hotel industry depend solely on power generating plants, while the cost of diesel is so high worsening operational cost.

All these no doubt translate into high cost for the hotels and invariably affecting the staff welfare. Hence even when labour wants to raise any issue on welfare, the employers often hide under the infrastructural problem.

The global economic crisis, however, heightened the problem and makes it more or less double tragedy.

It is quite a real tragedy for the industry because despite the prevailing problem we have been experiencing, the global economic meltdown further came to add insult to injury.

In such an instance, the managements have been forced to look for a way out of the crisis. But unfortunately, the only way out they have improvised so far is downsizing the workforce. Likewise, the managements now transfer their responsibility by engaging contractors to provide them casual workers and none pensionable staff while permanent workers are daily being laid off. This really is a great challenge to us. To further worsen the situation, the staff that we want to fight for are most often unco-operative. They believe that half bread is better than none.

Hence we can only do little in this type of anti-labor policy.

However, we have been trying to collaborate on how we can best handle the situation.

Another challenge is the new management technique introduced by our employers to make the staff work beyond normal hours. They are doing this to save cost, hence where there is supposed to be four workers, they put only two on very long hour to work with appropriate provision for overtime. Even when overtime is paid, it is still not a good option because continuous usage of a tool will definitely wear such out, not to talk of human beings. The workers need to take time off to rest and equally plan their other precious time to advance their education and all other social engagements.

Rather, they are confined to the industry working round the clock and nothing to show for it. All these are part of the numerous challenges of this economic recession. We have witnessed outright closure of some companies because of the inability to cope with the compounded problem of lack of patronage. Hotel industry is one where economic boom can easily be noticeable because people will like to extend their social activities to hotels.

But when the situation worsened, people will reduce socials. Even those who still go out will rather patronize the mushroom hotels without due regard to security.

Also, some companies that have staff on transfer now monetize the allowances given to them instead of paying for their hotels. In the past, this is a source of revenue for the hotels as some of these staff could stay in a hotel for more than one month. But these days because these companies want to save cost, they no longer care where the staff stay as they only give them pittance, which the management would not even care for any retirement.

All these have actually affected the profit margins of our hotels. The profit definitely was what the company would have ploughed back into business. But without breaking even, it has been difficult for the hotels to take care of business.

There are so many hygienic factors that managements are over-looking these days and that also affect the safety of guests. But the managements now hide under insufficient funds. Whereas there are some certain things the hotels must have, like the fire evacuation point, safety hygiene and safety rules must all be in place in case of unforeseen fire outbreak and disaster in the premises.

However, despite all these odds, we as a union know that we must find a way out of it. In line with this, our organization has been networking with other global organizations to ensure that we combat the menace together as a team. On this, we attended a congress of Trade Union International, Hotels and Tourism sector in Athens, Greece last December and the focus was on the challenges in the hotel industry vis-à-vis global economic meltdown. African countries topped the list of the agenda during the meeting in terms of the implication of the recession, outsourcing of our departments.

However, the implication which I have not mentioned is that by outsourcing a sensitive department like security puts guests at risk. Before now, security department had been under the hotel management and the security personnel were well-remunerated, but the outsourced companies are underpaying these people.

Hence, nonchalance attitude to work is nothing to write home about. They are no longer interested in the protection and lives any longer. That is one of the major problems of the out sourcing. Some managements have equally outsourced some of the service areas like in the rooms, where some stewards look very hostile. That is a message for guests that they have not been properly taken care of as workers, such an attitude also may be a warning that guests are not safe lodging there.

All these are results of cutting cost by managements.

Way out
As a union, we are out to stop all these mis-management in the land. At least even if we cannot completely eradicate all this anti-labour policy, we will at least bring them to the barest minimum. For instance, on the issue of outsourcing, we have resolved to follow the labour law which states that workers irrespective of the condition under which they are employed can be unionized. As such, we are going ahead to organize even those casuals, so that we can speak for them in terms of getting them a better condition of service.

Secondly, we are networking with our members to give solidarity strike in any hotel we find that such an act is being perpetrated. Equally, we have been able to outreach the HIV work policy in the industry. Before now, AIDS/HIV was a serious issue in the industry as workers who were found positive were sacked indiscriminately.

But with the policy now in place, that has been taken care of. The new policy also gives them the same right as those who are negative. It gives them protection, takes away stigmatization and their status no longer affects their job in any form.

On outsourcing, we have been able to intelligently put it before managements, that the policy is more detrimental to the industry. It does more harm than good. Our orientation as workers is that we are part of the industry. This is because, before now, hotel services were part of benefits workers enjoy. As a worker, one can have a free weekend with a member his or her family. While staff can also get certain rebate off for his friends and relations in an hotel that has employed him.

Such a gesture was part of motivation for staff and hence, see the organization as theirs and ready to defend it at all times. But now, it is a different ball game. However, managements have started seeing from our perspective, they are also seeking our co-operation in terms of understanding their financial constraints in meeting up with some of our demands.

The workers are reasonable and we have agreed to waive some of our welfare and allowances to safeguard our jobs instead of outright retrenchment.

Success story
When I came on board I met a lot of problems in the union, most importantly, internal crisis. The situation was so bad that workers see themselves as enemies while there is divide and rule among members. There was distrust and both staff and union executives have no faith any longer in the former leadership.

Hence, after the election, I knew quite well that I had to position myself as a unifying factor to bring back all the disaffecting members. I ensured that our entire programmes were tailored towards re-engineering,a worker, re-orientation of the members.

I made the members to know that it was a new beginning for NUHPSW. All our programmes then were geared towards re-positioning the union within three months of my election, I organized a three-day retreat in 2006 in which all members, both old and new, came to express their agitation and from there, we reconciled and decided to forge ahead. That was the first success we recorded. From then, we have been able to get all our members to attend and participate fully in union's activities.

Having succeeded in this area, our team was able to forge ahead in June, 2007, to lay the foundation of our national secretariat, which was completed and commissioned within a year. It was a rare feat because when I came on board, I met a lot of salary arrears, unclaimed retirement benefits, liabilities while the money in the purse was less that N100,000. That was in the past. Now, I can proudly say that I have turned the fortune of the union around. I came, saw and conquered.

I was able to do this by His grace. The last conference in December was the first in the 31 years' history of the union that an election would be held without any rancour. Hitherto, everybody would have been apprehensive including the management of the hotel for fear of arson. It is my wish to continue to ensure that peace continues to reign in the union because it is when peace exists that our union can move forward.