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Hotel workers seek clarity on Covid-19 subsidy

As the tourism industry continues to feel the heat due to restricted movements meant to curb the spread of Covid-19, claims of abuse of staff members working for some of the plush hotels in Kasane have emerged.

At the center of the employees’ grievances is government’s recently disbursed subsidy fund to the tourism sector.

According to complaints received by this publication, some hotel owners have found a loophole in which they can save a lot of money and use the government subsidy to cover costs.

“It’s mostly foreign-owned hotels and other business. Locals are usually very honest in the way they do things. All the hotels I know owned by locals have paid their workers the right amount, 50 percent from the subsidy and the other 50 percent from their businesses,” claimed a concerned senior staff member of a prominent hotel in Kasane.

Meanwhile, a guide at Flame of Africa Tours, Baitshepi Kamwi agreed to speak on record.

Kamwi accused the company’s owner, Brett McDonald, of not honouring his promise to pay them 25 percent of their salaries.

“Before the announcement of the subsidy, Brett wrote letters to us stating that due to lack of business, we’d only receive 25 percent of our salaries. But after the 50 percent subsidy announcement by the government, he has since reneged. We were hoping for 75 percent salaries, but no. We only get 50 percent of the government. The company is not contributing anything, even though we work from morning till evening!” cried Kamwi.

The fed-up guide is convinced McDonald is trying to cheat the system.

“What he’s basically saying is that before the subsidy he has been loaning us salaries, or advances as he wants to call them. There was never an agreement on loans and he should have never taken subsidy money to reimburse himself because we didn’t owe him,” maintained Kamwi, who stressed he’s willing to put his job on the line to speak up for his co-workers.

“Most employees have opted to take unpaid leave because it doesn’t make sense to work for half salary yet the workload increases,” he reasoned.

“There’s a lot I can talk about, but for now I’ll only focus on the subsidy!” concluded Kamwi.

In an interview with The Voice on Wednesday, McDonald, who has businesses in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, explained there was ‘a misunderstanding’ between him and his employees on how the subsidy works.

“The issue has been resolved. We’ve been discussing it with the Council Chairperson and the Member of Parliament staff for this entire week,” stated McDonald, insisting he had in fact gone above and beyond to assist his workers.

“During the worst times, I assisted my employees by giving them advance payments. When the subsidy arrived they were under the impression that they’d receive their entire salaries, that’s why I had the Council Chairperson here to explain how the subsidy works. It’s nothing but a misunderstanding. The subsidy for the three months was P239, 000, but I’ve already spent P600, 000 to pay my employees!” revealed McDonald.

Meanwhile, Chobe District Council Chairperson, Amos Mabuku confirmed meeting MacDonald and his employees in the last five days to try and resolve this matter.

Mabuku said a total of 11 companies in Kasane were facing similar problems that required resolving.

“With regards to Flame of Africa the problem started when he somersaulted on his 25 percent promise to his employees. The challenge here is the government subsidy arrived in bulk in October. So for the months of July, August and September, employees were solely reliant on McDonald. He was paying from his pocket,” said Mabuku.

The Chairperson stressed that according to BURS guidelines, the renowned tour operator was well within his rights to pay his employees 50 percent of their salaries after receiving the subsidy.

“He’s is compliant. BURS said if companies cannot afford to pay the other 50 prcent they can use the subsidy to pay their employees and McDonald and other employer are doing exactly that. For as long as he doesn’t violate BURS guidelines, there’s nothing much employees can do. The matter was resolved. Most employees understood, but a lot were still not happy,” Mabuku told The Voice.

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