Top Pietermaritzburg hotel a ghost of its former self
Workers said they had had enough of poor management, racial discrimination and the unfair labour practices by their employer.
In December, workers affiliated with the National Union of Civil and Allied Workers embarked on a two-day strike over wages and unfavourable working conditions.
However, hotel management placed union members on a defensive lockout. Workers have since abandoned the union.
The three-star hotel has been the jewel of the city for decades, mainly providing services to public servants. Today, workers say it is a shadow of its former self, with a leaking roof, a lift that has not functioned in three years, broken doors and a ghost in room 141 which often terrorised guests.
Workers said in late December last year, a man entered the premises through the back gate which had no security officers. He walked to the corridor of the third floor and jumped out of the window, killing himself.
Operated by Misty Blue Hotels, the establishment is owned by Durban businessman Vejan Pillay.
“When he took over the hotel he came to introduce himself; now that we have long-standing issues he is nowhere to be found,” said a worker.
“We are living from hand to mouth and constantly have to borrow from loan sharks because our wages have been cut.”
The worker added that employees no longer received payslips and were not sure when their pay date was, as reduced salaries were deposited anytime during the month.
“Their strategy when they want to fire you is to create unbearable working conditions. Some of us already have written warnings but no due process was followed,” said the worker.
Long-serving members who have been with the hotel since the early 1990s said they were not being treated fairly and their loyalty was not acknowledged.
One said that last year an elderly staff member took home only R55 after deductions.
“Our hours are being cut and we end up with nothing. My salary is about R1000 and we are struggling. The employer said he has his own financial obligations, therefore, he cannot pay us what is rightfully ours. We are still here because we are old and no one will employ us,” said the worker.
The group of workers further alleged they were being ill-treated by a head chef, whom they were told was the acting manager. They said he often displayed discrimination against people of other races.
“Our previous food and beverages manager was forced to fork out R3 500 from his own pocket to replace cutlery and crockery that went missing and this action led to his resignation,” said one worker.
“Employees of other races are never subjected to such treatment.”
Ernst-Jan Hiltemann, chief operating officer, said the hotel relied on business from government departments and that government business demand was slow from December to March.
Hiltemann said employees had been consulted before the implementation of short-time in the months of December and January and refuted claims of the head chef being at the helm, saying a new hotel operations manager had been appointed and would start next month.
“Our company takes racial discrimination very seriously. Neither of the alleged incidents of racial discrimination have been brought to the attention of the management of Misty Blue Hotels,” he said.
“The company is of the opinion that while the suicide was a tragic incident and our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of the deceased, this was a wilful action and we do not believe that this issue is something that the hotel could have influenced or prevented.”
Hiltemann added that the group did not believe there were ghosts at the hotel.
“To the best of my knowledge our internal guest feedback mechanisms have not highlighted the presence of ghosts in our hotel.”