Gambia: Gambia Tourism in Crisis – Senegambia Hotel Terminates Contract of 41 Staffs

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on The Gambia is throwing the tourism sector into deep crisis as one hotel terminated employment contract of its long serving staff members.

Some 150,000 Gambians are said to be employed in the tourism industry, among them is Mr Lamin Njie. He is among the 41 staff members of the hotel whose employment was terminated by the hotel management.

Having worked for Senegambia Hotel since 2006, he rose through the ranks to become the senior supervisor in his department. Today, his life is faced with uncertainty as his services came to abrupt halt at the hotel thanks to what management attributed to Covid-19 pandemic.

“This termination of my service affected my welfare and my career a lot because since 2006, I began a career at this hotel. I rose from junior staff to a senior supervisor and all of a sudden, my work here has been terminated for no justifiable reason,” Mr Njie explained.

The 38 year old is a father of 3, with the last kid aged 4 enrolled in nursery school. Since completing school, his only work had been with the hotel and he trained a lot of other young people who came to the hotel to undergo mentorship and trainings.

Apart from these, Mr Njie also looks after the family house and takes care of other siblings’ needs and supports his parents.

Largest contributor to GDP

Tourism sector is the second largest contributor to the country’s economy after agriculture, contributing more than 30% to the country’s gross domestic product.

A report from Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research, a product of Fitch Solutions Group Ltd., UK, “a sharp slowdown in real GDP growth in The Gambia” was anticipated in 2020 as Covid-19 (coronavirus) weighs on the large tourism sector and undercuts consumer confidence and spending power.

“While authorities have begun to roll out monetary and fiscal stimulus, space for more accommodative policy may be somewhat constrained,” it warned.

According to analysts, the condition of workers in the industry continues to be more worrisome when the country’s largest tour operator, FTI Group, announced earlier in July that it will close operation due to Covid-19 pandemic as land borders and airspaces remain closed.

A Report on the Socioeconomic Effects of Covid-19 in The Gambia published by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in July 2020, said tourism sector was the first to be hit by the pandemic.

Hotels and Lodges, Restaurants & Bars and the informal sector linked with this sector were immediately hit once the virus spread to Europe.

“After the country’s first case on the 17th March, 2020 and the subsequent closure of the country’s airspace, the tourist season was declared all but over. Tourist arrivals have already declined by 53.7 percent between February 2020 and March 2020. Hotels and other establishments in the sector with debts look to be the most vulnerable businesses,” said the report.

Workers, both formal and informal, are adversely affected. Additional effects can be seen through reduced or almost no visits by tourists leading to reduced incomes for local enterprises located in Protected Areas and reduction in incomes for households involved in agroforestry businesses such as honey production and handicrafts.

By official assumptions, the industry stands to lose about 101,930 air arrivals taking cue from the projected arrivals in 2020 (March-October).

One hundred and sixty-seven (167) tourism establishments had to reduce the working staff.

It is estimated that The Gambian economy would lose an estimated US $108.5 million in income.

This is income that should have accrued to either government agencies, private establishments and small businesses attached to the sector, but excluding VAT and fuel costs. The amount represents close to 7 percent of GDP.

According to the Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS) Rapid Assessment of the Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism and Related Sectors, out of the 266 formal tourism establishments, 167 had to reduce the working staff as a measure to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 while 65 have reduced the payment of their retained staffs.

Thirty out of the 32 hotels visited reduced their working staff with three of them reducing staff payment.

As part of the GBoS rapid assessment, individual tourism entrepreneurs were covered including Tourist Taxi Drivers, Airport Porters, Fruit Sellers/Juice Pressers, Bird Watchers, Tourist Guides, Hairdressers and Craft Market Vendors.

Senegambia workers are serving long term, with permanent contract for each.

The said workers of the Senegambia Beach Hotel are those on Permanent Contracts issued by a previous management team as a result of an industrial sit-down strike in December 2007, for salary increment, job security, better working conditions, among other things.

A committee comprising GTB, Hotel Management, Staff Association, and Security agents was convened. A memorandum of understanding was reached.

In that, 100 junior employees were given permanent contracts as the hotel operates all year.

“Our various heads of departments were tasked to identify and recommend hardworking junior employees under their purview with a view to offer them the agreed Permanent Contract Status. We were subsequently recommended by and offered the said contract on 01st May 2008,” the staff said in a letter to this reporter.

However, only 41 of the 100 remain working at the hotel of recent as most of the permanent employees no longer work at the hotel due to various reasons.

Apparently, it is their belief that by virtue of some facts and many other scenarios over the years, that the owners and current management of the Senegambia Beach Hotel are relying on the Covid-19 pandemic situation as a window to accomplish their long term desire and strategy of eradicating the Permanent Contract employment status issued to us on 01st May 2008;

“We consider this action as unreasonably justifiable, unfair, an unnecessary termination of our contracts, a violation of our rights to employment which is totally unacceptable and a cause for concern in the maintenance of our families and to a larger extent our diverse society,” said the Permanent Contract Staff Association terminated by the management.

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