Uncertain future for two emblematic hotels

FIVE-STAR hotels Sidi San Juan (Alicante) and the Sidi Saler (Valencia), which closed in January, were told last week by the ministry of Labour to readmit 177 employees. The owners’ application for a Redundancies Procedure (ERE) – obligatory when agreement cannot be reached over layoffs – was rejected on the grounds that the Sidi Hoteles company was solvent.

The outlook for tourism was good and the hotels ran at a loss for only four months a year, argued junior minister Roman Ceballos on March 16.

Theoretically the ERE rejection meant that employees returned immediately but the works committee rightly predicted that on March 17 the doors to both hotels would be locked. Instead staff were handed letters offering paid leave but all agreed that they could not trust a company which already owed them so much money.

A Benidorm hotel group had been on the brink of buying the Sidi San Juan, said sources, and ministry inspectors were told on March 16 that the hotel could reopen a month later with the original 88-strong workforce.

However, the offer was apparently withdrawn owing to the complexity of the operation and the extra €4 or €5 million required to compensate the redundant workers.

Staff had not been paid since last December and were between a rock and a hard place because they lacked documentation proving they were unemployed and could neither claim benefits nor work legally.

The owners said they had wanted to open on a seasonal basis but were forced to close after staff refused to switch to permanent seasonal contracts in a bid to salvage the hotel’s finances.

Takings demonstrated that the winters were “unbearable” following a drastic reduction in private functions in the Sidi San Juan and trade-fair guests and conventions at the Sidi Saler, claimed the owners.

Sidi Hoteles exhausted every avenue over the permanent seasonal contracts, company spokesman Carlos Noguerol insisted last January.

But while the company blamed workers for not accepting permanent seasonal contracts, the employees complained that future unemployment benefits would have been jeopardised.

The employees also rejected the minimum redundancy payment of 20 days per year worked – limited to the equivalent of a year’s salary – after the company claimed it was “technically broke.”  Better terms could be negotiated “only if a miracle occurred” Noguerol said.

No miracle happened and for the Sidi Saler and Sidi San Juan – where Princess Diana stayed briefly in 1996 and had to be smuggled out in a laundry van to elude the paparazzi – their only option was to close, the owners said.

Meanwhile, 88 employees in Alicante and 89 in Valencia lamented that they still had jobs but nowhere to work – and no pay.

By Annie Maples

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