The ripple effects of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has forced the hospitality industry to continue operating at a loss following a slow down in business.
This, according to Hotel, Food Processing and Catering Workers Union of Malawi general secretary Shakespeare Sesani, has forced workers in the sector to endure economic hardships.
While indicating that workers understand the circumstances leading to the development, he said in an interview that job cuts and measures taken by employers have pushed workers into poverty.
Sesani said: “We were approached and we have been in thorough discussions with employers to understand times are hard, but this is bitter pill to swallow.
“Thousands now have been rendered jobless in our sector and this is has certainly put pressure on most employees.”
He, however, said the union is of the view that firing employees for now is not the best approach. Instead, he said, employers should consider sending their employees on leave as this would ease the burden on employees as medical
aid and other benefits that companies provide to their workers would be intact.
But Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE)-listed Sunbird Tourism plcsaid since the outbreak of Covid-19, which led to the closure of regional hubs and sources of travellers, they have made losses which have a bearing on the country’s economy.
In a written response to an e-mailed questionnaire, Sunbird Tourism plc chief executive officer Yusuf Olela said the company, which is operating at 11 percent capacity, has reduced staff payroll benefits as a temporary survival measure.
He said: “It is our hope that measures to contain the virus will be eased and that both local and international businesse will open up soon.
“In the event that this does not happen in the near future, further measures will have to be taken and as an industry, we are looking at massive job losses.
“Sunbird currently employs over 950 employees and sadly, we are equally exposed to similar difficult decisions when hotels remain partially closed for a long time.”
On his part, Blantyre Hotels Limited general manager David Church, whose company owns Protea Hotels by Marriot Blantyre Ryalls, said the hotel has lost 90 percent of its business has been working on new concepts and offers to enhance its position and create other demands in the current circumstances.
Speaking separately, Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (Ecam) executive director George Khaki admitted that employers are facing a difficult time, but said the body is encouraging members to adhere to the Covid-19 workplace guidelines.
Commenting on the issue, Ministry of Labour spokesperson Christina Mkutumula, while indicating that the ministry was consulted to ensure that the law is followed in case of job cuts, said retrenchment should be treated as a measure of last resort.
Last month, the Department of Tourism said about 35 000 workers in the tourism sector have been laid-off due to business slowdown and closure following the Covid-19 pandemic.
In its April 2020 Economic Update, the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) said it sees the accomodstion and food sector shrinking by -9.9 percent this year, down from 4.9 percent last year.
Tourism is a significant sector in the country with figures showing it contributes eight percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and efforts are underway by the government to increase its contribution to the economy