By Kebba Ansu
Unarguably, there is no other sector in Gambian economy that has suffered most from the impacts of coronavirus pandemic than the tourism industry. Covid-19 was declared as a national pandemic on March 21st, 2020 by government of The Gambia followed with the subsequent closures of both land, sea and air borders in a bid to scaling down the impact of the global pandemic in the country.
The situation has also led to closing down of hotels, restaurants, motels, guesthouses, casinos among other establishments within the tourism industry resulting to huge loss of jobs and economic livelihoods for many seasonal workers most of whom are yet to return to work.
Kombeh Jallow is a 35 years old single mother who fends for her two kids and mother through gainful employment with the Ocean Bay Hotel and has been out of work since September of 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“One day in July of last year when I went to work, my supervisor called me into his office and served me with a letter of termination. I didn’t open the letter at that moment but suspicious of a worst scenario that may ensue as some of my colleagues already left a week earlier,” Kombeh Jallow, a former cook, Ocean Bay Hotel recounts her fate.
She added: “When I read the letter it was very difficult for me, I instantly developed headache for fear of the consequences of termination. I thought of my two kids attending school, my mum and my two adopted sons for their everyday needs that I take care of.
Explaining the dire financial situation of the family that entirely depends on her for survival, the 35 years old single mother explained that her former employer only paid her July salary but since then has not benefitted any support from neither former employer nor the state or any other organisation.
“Without doubt, am really struggling very hard to put food on the table for my family since my termination. Am currently engaging in petty trading where I sell breakfast and dinner to customers within the neighborhood in order to take care of my family,” she disclosed.
Her situation is not much different with 47years old Abdoulie Bah, a security guard whose service was terminated by Senegambia Beach Hotel in July of the same year. Bah disclosed the difficulties many like him are enduring to take care of their families, revealing that many seasonal workers of the tourism industry are currently finding it difficult to pay rents, school fees, electricity and water couple with difficulties in taking care of their daily fish money among other liabilities.
“I can vividly tell you that there are a lot of seasonal workers who have been out of work since the advent of Covid-19, some of them have been noticed because they cannot pay their house rents, and some are finding it extremely hard to pay their children school fees. There are many others whose marriages got broke due to difficult financial situation of taking care of their spouses,” former Senegambia Beach Hotel Security officer disclosed.
He added: “It’s very difficult to be seating without engaging in gainful employment but even more difficult if you haven’t planned for it. Imagine working into your work place and abruptly served with a termination letter, a lot of things runs in your mind which when manhandled could lead to psychological deficits and unwanted stressful conditions.”
According to him, the situation of many seasonal workers of the tourism industry is a cause for concern that government of The Gambia should care to address, suggesting that government should conduct a registration of all seasonal workers, conduct an assessment of their living situation and roll out support in a bid to scale down the impact of Covid-19.
Musukuta Trawally is a 44 years old single mother, who until Covid-19 has been working for Atlantic Hotel thus taking care of more than ten children from her little salary paid by the hotel. She affirmed that though Covid-19 is a reality by all account and nature but the manner in which tourism workers received their termination remains a concern to all and sundry, disclosing that no notice has been given to her and colleagues prior to their termination of employment contract with the hotel.
“It was one day in September, 2020, when I report to work and all of a sudden my Human Resources (HR) Manager served me a letter of termination. I was so worried looking at the number of people under my care and how I will be able to take care of them,” Madam Trawally disclosed.
According to her, the termination has serious implications on both her and her children, disclosing that she is currently finding it difficult to paying the school fees of her children; take care of their daily bread as well as their medications.
Alhagie Bojang, a seasoned travel and tourism lecturer shared the views of scores of seasonal workers this reporter spoke with, observing that seasonal workers of the tourism industry have been seriously affected by the negative impacts of COVID-19.
According to him, most of the seasonal workers received insignificant amount of support from their employees as well as the government to keep them through this hard time of Covid-19, adding that some seasonal workers have received absolutely nothing and has caused irreversible damage to some families.
“I came across hospitality workers who have been kicked out of their rented apartments, some who have no choice but to take their wives and children away to province to stay with other members of their families because they have nowhere to stay. It has broken marriages due to financial struggles, children affected because their parents are hospitality workers and they could not support their education,” Bojang revealed.
He added: “I think the government and private sector care less because I have not seen either central government, the assembly or private sector organisations making the issue of this vulnerable group a real concern. To look for support and solutions for people who contributes immensely to our economy.”
According to him, it’s about time for hospitality workers to come together and form a strong union that will help them to protect their rights against wrongful termination of services, arguing that a strong and unified voice is needed for now and for the future that will work towards the protection of their own welfare.
Against this background, many of the Covid-19 victims have expressed grave concern about the ways and matters their services have been terminated, describing it as unlawful and violation of their basic rights and that of their families.
At least five victims have confirmed to this reporter that in most cases employees received their termination letters without prior warnings of any wrong doing, noting that all the reasons for their termination is based on Covid-19. “What I can confirm for now is the condition to terminate them (seasonal workers of the tourism industry) should be based on principle and that they must be paid. Most of the hotels are been subsidised,” said Hon. Abdoulie Ceesay, National Assembly Member for Old Yundum Constituency