Prominent retailers who wrote to Abela mum on own measures to help employees

Over a dozen of Malta’s prominent local businesses who wrote to Prime Minister Robert Abela listing a set of proposals to help tackle the issues they are facing because of coronavirus have so far not yet elaborated to The Shift the measures they are putting in place to safeguard their employees.

One was the exception to the rule as Arkadia Ltd, the company that owns a number of supermarkets in Malta and Gozo, replied to The Shift’s questions.

The list of retailers who signed the letter include companies such as Dizz Group, a company that quickly expanded under a Labour government, Hudson Holdings and Trilogy, which own an extensive number of retail outlets of prominent brands, together with supermarket businesses.

On Monday, all non-essential retail shops and services were ordered to shut down by the government as part of the measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The list of demands forwarded to Abela by the businesses included quarantine leave paid for by the government, waivers on utility bills, a direct cash subsidy through rent payment, payroll for April and May and that a temporary six-month break altogether or a downward revision of the VAT rate is implemented.

The Shift sent questions to the majority of companies that signed the letter, asking what unilateral actions their business has taken to safeguard the health and welfare of their staff, and what measures they are taking with regard paid absence provisions and financial assistance packages.

Nicky Camilleri of Arkadia Ltd. told The Shift that he was hoping the new government measures would be announced this week after the ones listed last Wednesday were “not really helpful”. He said his staff had been redeployed wherever possible and he was encouraging members to utilise the leave carried forward from last year. “We had to also terminate subcontractors, which were not directly on our payroll, and utilise our own people for these services,” he said.

At the time of writing the letter, the businesses said that their stores were trading at just 15% of normal business.

“Unlike other service providers who, in these circumstances, would be in a position to continue operating and levying their fees on our sector remotely, our business model is in a unique position of requiring the physical presence of the majority of employees within our stores,” they wrote.

They said they would also have to sell their stocks at discounted prices leading to further losses on their part.

“Similar to the hospitality industry and other related sectors being hard hit with this pandemic, all of us wish to endeavour to survive this period as well as safeguarding the salaries of our current workforce,” the letter said.

The letter to the prime minister was signed by Kevin Grech from Hudson Holdings Ltd, Mario Camilleri from Big Bon Group, Simon Gatt Baldacchino from United Department Stores Ltd, Joseph Borg from Trilogy Ltd, Kenneth Mizzi from SAK Ltd,  Simon Mizzi from Rubicon Ltd, Andrew Calascione from Supermarkets (1960) Ltd., Marlene Seychell from CKK Holdings, Nicky Camilleri from Arkadia Marketing Ltd, Emma Miller from Miller Group, Tonio Camilleri from Camilleri Group, Roberta Caruana Stivala from Thumbelina Ltd, Christine Pace from Dorkins Ltd, Lauro Abela from Franks Stores Co Ltd, Diane Izzo from Dizz Group, Jerome Grech from Superbrands Ltd, Romina Fenech from Sterling Group Ltd, Peter Borg from Bortex Group and Charles Mifsud from United Fashion Ltd.

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