~ Five contest termination package ~
MAHO–After thirty years of satisfying appetites and entertaining countless tourists and locals Cheri’s Café in Maho, which had become a staple open-air restaurant and entertainment venue in the country, might not be reopening its doors.
Part of Cheri’s Café was destroyed by Hurricane Irma and owner Sheri Batson told The Daily Herald on Thursday that the business had been losing between US $50,000 and US $100,000 annually for the past seven years, but she kept the establishment open in the hope that things would turn around and in an effort to keep her staff members employed.
The roof of the Café’s office was blown away, the storeroom collapsed and another area was under water during the passage of Hurricane Irma on September 6. Over the past three decades, Batson estimates that more than 10 million persons have passed through the Café.
Following the hurricane Batson (70) is now not sure whether she will reopen the Café. She has since terminated the services of her employees. Twenty-four have already accepted their layoff packages and five have not.
All workers have been paid for the three days worked in September before the restaurant closed as well as their vacation pay. The restaurant normally closes in September. Twenty-four workers have also accepted and been paid their termination packages.
Samson R. Webster, one of the five workers who have not accepted their package, said Batson does not want to pay the five staffers a fair termination package. He said while Cheri’s Café has offered him one amount, the Labour Department calculated a higher amount. Webster said he worked for 2.5 to 3 hours nightly, five days a week from 7:00pm until 9:30pm or 10:00pm.
In an invited comment Batson said the calculation for workers was done by an attorney and was calculated in accordance with the laws and was based on the workers years of work and their last years’ salaries. “We wouldn’t do it any other way,” Batson assured.
Webster said the workers received their September vacation pay on October 5, which Cheri’s Café Office Manager Thea Langeveld said was due to a new payroll system. Webster said when workers arrived to pick up their vacation pay on October 5, they were asked to sign acknowledging receipt of a letter urging them to report to work from October 9, from 9:00am to 12:00noon for one month to assist in cleaning up the premises, amongst other things. Batson said workers only showed up the first day to assist in the cleaning and did not show up after that.
Webster said workers at the Café are permanent workers with between 14 and 28 years in service. “She told us we will not get our vacation payment if we don’t sign the document …,” Webster said, noting that workers eventually did receive their vacation pay.
He said when employees turned up to work on October 9, they were asked to sign another letter indicating that they agree to wait for the reopening of the Café without being paid or for termination pay in the event of permanent closure. Webster said he was told that Batson would be taking out a loan to pay out the workers. Batson confirmed that this was done.
Webster said he received his calculations on November 24, and on December 8, he went to the Department of Labour and said he received a different calculation and higher pay-out amount.
Webster, who said he has been working at Cheri’s Café for 18 years, said the five workers just want to be paid fairly. He said if he doesn’t receive his fair termination package, he and the four other workers will take the matter to court.
Batson, a St. Maarten resident for 50 years, said she only wants to be fair to her employees. She said the pay-out is in accordance with the law. All workers who received their packages have so far been paid fairly.
She said when the workers did not show up for work when requested to do so in October, the company had grounds to fire them, but she opted not to because “this is not who I am … I care for the workers.”