Over the last few months some of the hotels we manage in Belgium, on behalf of the owner FLI, have seen a noticeable drop in sales activity. Most of the sales decline can be attributed to a number of high profile factory closure announcements, such as FORD Genk, where there will be 10,000 direct and indirect, job losses over the next 18 months. As a professional hotel management company we constantly review the performance of our business and in light of what is happening in the marketplace we thought it prudent to introduce work efficiencies in some of our hotels. These changes would affect 11 employees out of a workforce of 370 people. Of these 11 staff members a very small number would be made redundant as we sought to find alternative roles for them within their hotels. We informed the unions of our intentions but unfortunately we have received a letter from the unions advising us of their intention to strike, or to take action, as and from the 10th December 2012. Needless to say, we are very disappointed that the Union’s would take this approach and we believe that this action is irresponsible. We have responded to their letter informing them of the implications for the business of such action.
I think it is important that I reiterate what actually is happening in our business in Belgium. It is very important that we all remain calm in times like this and that we take time out to fully understand what we are trying to achieve.
As I mentioned above, we have seen deterioration in sales in some of our hotels over the last few months. There have been some very high profile announcements of factory closures, such as Ford Genk, but every day we read about lots of small companies either closing or downsizing. All these events have an impact on many of our hotels and have been noticeably quieter over the last few months. This is not just affecting us; it is affecting the entire hotel industry in Belgium.
When we first noticed this decline in business, we started to have a good look at how we operate and where we could bring in efficiencies into the business that will allow us to survive this crisis. Our aim is to make sure that this company is a much stronger and viable business, while also being a good employer.
Therefore, we came up with a plan that would see changes in how we operate. These changes would affect just 11 people out of 370 that we currently employ in the FLI group. I am fully aware that change can be difficult, especially for those involved. That’s why we are meeting all 11 people and we are trying to offer them, where possible, alternatives to redundancies. Unfortunately the alternatives will not suit everyone and some redundancies will happen, but we are trying hard to give people alternative options.
It is essential that we make these savings immediately and your Unions were fully briefed of our plans at 3 meetings on the 14th November 2012, 20th November 2012 and 3rd December 2012. The Unions agreed at those meetings that new efficiencies were required in light of what was happening within the business. Where we disagreed with the Unions was with regards to the outlandish counter demands that they made to the company on redundancy payments and guarantees in relation to any future efficiencies that we may want to introduce. These demands from the Unions were so costly, they would have cancelled out the savings that we were trying to make in the first instance.
I want to personally reassure all our staff that the actions that we are taking are in the best interest of the business and the long term sustainability of the jobs within our hotels. I have no doubt that there will be bankruptcies in hotels in Belgium over the coming years; in fact we saw a bankruptcy in a very high profile hotel in Antwerp in the last few weeks. I am determined that such an event will not happen in any of our hotels. But I cannot give any guarantees. On the other hand, if business picks up in 2013 we might be increasing the numbers employed within the group, but nobody can predict what the future holds.
What I can guarantee is that I will work relentlessly to ensure the long term viability of this company and the security of as many jobs as possible. But I cannot do this alone and I need the support of all the employees and management. If that means that we have to change the way that we communicate with you going forward, well I am more than happy to sit down and discuss that.
I fully accept the right of all employees to strike, if they have a genuine case to do so. In this instance I believe that strike action will be counterproductive and may have the result of creating a situation whereby there may be even greater job losses within the group. If a strike does go ahead we will take whatever action is necessary to protect the business.
Finally, if you have any concerns or questions please feel free to talk to me, your GM, Head of Department or any of the management in PREM Group. I include some of our telephone numbers below and feel free to contact us anytime, in confidence.
On behalf of FLI