Saturday, April 10, 2010
SIXTEEN MONTHS WITHOUT PAY – AND NO DOLE
By David Eade
When I first came to Spain nearly 20 years ago I had an occasional coffee in a nice café-restaurant facing on to the main square in Fuengirola. It had an interior patio and was a marked change to the greasy spoons of my home town, London. After a year or so the café suddenly closed. That surprised me but what shocked me was to learn that many of the staff had not been paid for nearly a year.
It was my first introduction to the very different labour laws in Spain where those employees on fixed contracts cannot be suddenly fired even if they are not paid. Indeed as long as they turn up for work their contract is binding with the unpaid workers having statutory rights if the company is eventually wound-up.
Over the years this kind of scenario has become more commonplace especially in the current economic crisis. However one of the most celebrated of these cases involves Los Monteros hotel in Marbella.
Los Monteros became a tourism symbol for the Costa del Sol as it was the first five-star luxury hotel opening its doors in 1964. Now some might argue that the closure of a jet set hotel is no loss at all. On the contrary - the fact the establishment has closed its doors has no impact whatsoever on the well heeled – they simply follow the money to another exotic location. Those who suffer are such as Ana María Díaz who works in the laundry and has been at the hotel since 1974. Or Antonio Guil who has been the maintenance man for 36 years. Or Jerónimo Torres, the head barman, who started out learning his trade at the hotel in 1971 at the age of 16. It is they and the other 180 current employees of the hotel that are the victims.
It was back in November 2008 that I first wrote about Los Monteros because then Lebanese owner Mohamed Reda Bahige Alaywan had not paid his workers for two months. Nor did there seem to be any funding for the improvements so badly needed by this top-notch hotel. However within days the plight of the employees and the future of the hotel seemed to have turned around. In stepped the Russian company Northwest Oil but it was bad news not good.
Rather than put the hotel back on its feet, giving the employees their back wages whilst ensuring their future Northwest Oil took a very different route. This created the suspicion the purchase was nothing more than a property speculation strategy – a strategy that soon went wrong. Marbella town hall quickly moved to block any rezoning of the land on the valuable coastline site for urban development requiring it to be for hotel use only.
Since June 4 2009 the hotel has not been open to guests. The director, Ernest Malyshev, did declare Los Monteros open for a while but as there was no power or water guests could have not run the taps in their rooms, had a meal or turned on a light. This ploy to be technically open to guests was carried out in the hope of avoiding Andalucía government and court sanctions.
So what is the situation now? The president of the committee of the business (that speaks for the employees), José Osorio, believes the hotel owes more than 57 million euros to the Spanish tax and social security agencies. In addition some 400 claims have been made in the Málaga mercantile court against the companies Northwest Oil established to run the hotel and hold its assets. Furthermore around 250 families who depended on the hotel for their incomes have had their lives ruined because they have received no pay for 16 or more months nor have they been eligible for the dole as technically these wage earners are still employed.
So who is to blame? Northwest Oil certainly but Osorio and the CC.OO union representative Lola Villalba also point their fingers at Marbella town hall, the Andalucía government and the Andalucía ombudsman who they believe should have taken firmer action. Bitterly the workers talk of how all the politicians turned out to have their photographs taken on the pick line but then did nothing else to help them.
And the future? An administrator appointed by the court now controls the hotel. The manager Salvador Ríos, who along with his employees have stuck to their posts, insists it is ready to open its doors within 15 days largely because they all have ensured the building has been maintained – at their expense. They have also occupied the hotel to ensure the furnishings, fittings and assets were not stripped. The most likely course is that the hotel will be sold. The employees as creditors can only hope this will see their outstanding salaries paid and their future employment guaranteed. Sadly we could still be many months off a conclusion and in the meantime they are euroless.
(The above article appeared in the Morning Star in April)