By C.Y. Kwanue
The euphoria that greeted about 180 new employees of the Farmington Hotel near Robertsfield, Lower Margibi County, was short-lived on Monday when news surfaced that the services of 40 persons had been terminated.
The affected employees, who now appeal for government’s intervention, said they were laid off two weeks to the end of their respective probation period. They hailed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for appreciating them with a purse of US$1500 for “the able manner in which they handled the recently hosted historic 51st ECOWAS Submit in the country.
The massive downsizing reportedly took place on June 22, two months and three weeks after hiring and giving hope to the employees, many of whom claimed they left their previous jobs in Monrovia and other parts of the country. Some of them, who resettled in Smell-No-Taste (Unification Town) in Margibi County, said their collective future is in limbo.
“I cried because I left my family with the hope of getting a new and permanent job in the private sector, but now I have been disappointed,” one of the affected employees told the Daily Observer yesterday via mobile phone.
Daily Observer also gathered that Farmington Hotel’s Liberia-based Lebanese partners, representing the Abi Jaoudi Group, masterminded the retrenchment exercise at the hotel.
Farmington’s decision to retrench 40 of its workforce came barely a month after the government granted the management a 30-year tax holiday.
On May 30 of this year, 34 of the 73 Representatives on Capitol Hill voted to ratify a 30-year Investment Incentive Agreement between Liberia and the Roberts International Airport (RIA) Hotel Resorts, Incorporated. In that session, there were 38 Representatives present, and 34 of them voted overwhelmingly for the passage of the ‘Tax Holiday’ agreement, following a report from the Joint Committee on Investment and Concession and Judiciary.
The report argued that the hotel or tourism business is a struggling industry in Liberia, and should therefore enjoy a tax holiday.
But some of those retrenched, according to report, have earlier signed a year contract with the management dating April this year to April 7 next year, but the management reportedly refused to give out copy of the alleged contract to the employees. The hotel management also issued identification cards to each of the affected employees dating from May, 2017 to May 2018 as expiration date, but to the surprise of the terminated staff was informed of being overstaffed.
However, the general manager, Roland Stilting, told the Daily Observer yesterday via mobile phone that his management team implemented the termination exercise, “according to the book—the Decent Work Act.” Under Section 14.2 of the Decent Work Act, an employer has the right to terminate employment concluded for a definite period at any time provided that he has cause to do so under section 14.3, which says an employer has the right to terminate employment concluded for an indefinite period at any time provided that the employer follows the procedures specified in those sections as appropriate. In this context, it is not clear as to which of the rules the management had applied before taking the decision to terminate the employees.
“Yes, we have terminated a good number of our staff, some for poor performances, but we go by what is on the book (labor standards),” Stilting said. He said prior to the exercise, management evaluated the performance of each of the terminated employees who, “did not meet our requirement.” He said the retrenched were happy, “because they were certificated and given an overtime pay having participated in our one-month program.” He did not elaborate on the one-month program.