By Peter Stevenson
HILTON hotel service staff continued their indefinite strike on Wednesday as an increased security detail inside the hotel insured the protests remained peaceful.
Trade unionists and staff carried signs saying ‘We are not second class employees’ and ‘No to discrimination, injustice and oppression’. The strike began on Tuesday after six members of staff received redundancy letters following the closure of the hotels confectionary department.
“Collective agreements were signed on May 30, ending months of discussions between the hotels, the labour ministry and trade unions, so we find it unacceptable that they have gone ahead and made six people redundant,” trade union SEK’s representative, Andreas Panayi, told the Cyprus Mail.
He added that the ministry had originally suggested a 15 per cent pay cut for all staff including management, but hotels had demanded a bigger reduction and wanted to make redundancies.
“The hotel unilaterally closed down the hotel’s confectionary services, with no warning so we will continue striking indefinitely until they decide to withdraw their letters,” he said.
One of those laid off was 59-year-old Antonis Kannaouros who had been at the hotel for 37 years. He told the Mail he would continue striking until he collapsed.
“We felt awful when we were handed the letters and afterwards we were treated like common criminals, having to be escorted off the premises by management,” he said.
Another striker, Christos Ioannides, had 29 years of service under his belt until he was told his services were no longer needed. He expressed his surprise that employees from the confectionary department were being laid off as there had been plenty of work recently.
“The confectionary department caters for breakfast and banquets and we have been working 12-13 hour days to meet demand so it came as a huge shock when we were told we were out of work,” he said.
Ioannides added that in the wake of the Eurogroup meetings in March plenty of foreign journalists had flocked to the hotel and between 300 and 400 breakfasts were being served on a daily basis.
Staff from other departments also protested, showing their support for their former colleagues. One of them, 50-year-old Marios who has been at the hotel now for 35 years said he felt his position was now under threat.
“The rest of our positions are in danger now too despite the fact that we believe the hotel is working well and making a profit,” he said.
Hilton Hotel area general manager for Greece and Cyprus, Bart van de Winkel told the Mail the decision to lay off staff did not come out of the blue as discussions had been ongoing about the need to reorganise the hotel’s business model.
He explained that in January management recognised they could not sustain operations and the worsening financial climate in the wake of the bailout had accelerated the need for change.
“Every quarter, general managers and heads of department address the staff and team members and discuss performance and guest satisfaction so they were aware that things were not going well, with trade unions also being debriefed on the subject,” van de Winkel said.
He added the hotel had two options, to close down or to reduce costs by outsourcing certain costly departments.
Van de Winkel went on to explain that the cost of living allowance (CoLA) in Cyprus sees salaries rise every year irrespective of performance and is decided by the labour ministry meaning that long serving employees working in the confectionary department were receiving more than €2,000 a month.
The hotel has been working with limited services and has had to trim down operations temporarily, sending new guests to the Hilton Park. Existing guests were being catered for, he said.
“Salary reductions were offered and will need to go further but the door for discussion is always open and they have been going on for months but costs need to be reduced if the hotel is to survive,” he said.
“It is difficult to change the situation and it cannot be done through sabotage and blackmail.”