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LIQUOR BAN: 14 800 WORKERS FACE UNPAID LAYOFFS

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MANZINI – About 14 800 employees will bear the brunt of the liquor ban announced by government on Tuesday.
The 14 800 employees is an estimate figure issued by the Swaziland National Liquor Association (SNLA) based on the fact that there are 3 700 liquor licence holders known to it.


The SNLA Secretary General, Thamsanqa Hlatshwako, said on average, each establishment employed about four people while those who ran wine and malt outlets had more employees as they were also awarded a licence based on the fact that they operated a restaurant.


Given the ban of alcohol by government, he said the economic repercussions would have a devastating impact on the liquor industry’s workers.
Hlatshwayo said they would not be able to remunerate any employees for the next two months as they had just recently reopened when government made a fresh announcement through a press briefing that alcohol sales would be banned from July 1, 2020.
The announcement was made by the Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini.


Layoffs


Hlatshwako said due to the recent developments, workers would be on unpaid layoffs for the duration of the ban and some of them would lose their jobs permanently. Hlatshwayo said this was because the businesses in the industry had no money to remunerate their employees as they would not be gnerating any income.
The businessman said since they had not been operating for about three months, they were swimming in debts and most of them had to borrow money in order to replenish their stock.


This, he said, was on June 15, 2020, when the ban on alcohol sale was lifted. He said other liquor retailers, especially bars, struggled to reopen and some were still closed because their operational costs were a bit high compared to bottle stores.
Thereafter, he said while they were hoping to raise money to repay the debts, service their loans and pay landlords, government singlehandedly banned the sale of alcohol again.


He said this meant that after waiting for about three months, government only allowed them to operate for 10 days following the fresh ban on the sale of alcohol for two months, starting from July 1, 2020.
“This simply means that the money we borrowed to stock the alcoholic beverages will be locked in the storerooms and refrigerators in our liquor stores, yet on the other hand, our financial service providers are expecting us to repay them with interest,” he said.


Again, he said landlords, who had been patient with them for the past three months, had given them a grace period to settle the debts since the ban on alcohol sales was lifted on June 15, 2020.
“However, since government has already announced the two-month ban on alcohol sales, our landlords have made it clear that they cannot survive without collecting rent for five months. As a result, they are anticipating chucking us out of their structures,” the secretary general said.


Landlords


In fact, he said the landlords were no longer interested in doing business with them because they were unreliable in paying rent. He said they could not blame the landlords because the rent they paid was their major source of income.
“This means that some of the businesses in the industry will not be able to reopen when the ban on alcohol sales is lifted in August,” Hlatshwayo said.
He said it was on that note that as an association, they foresaw unpaid layoffs that would affect at least 14 800 workers in the industry and that some of the employees would eventually be unemployed.


Compensation


In that regard, the secretary general said they believed government was not supposed to close businesses without compensation. He said they were still consulting regarding the matter because they wanted government to provide relief to the workers and businesses affected by the ban.
However, he emphasised that he would not say much about the issue of relief from government because consultations were still ongoing as they wanted to get the best possible way forward for their businesses.


Again, he said in business, it did not make sense to be a given to ‘close operations’ as there was a lot of planning involved.
“The painful thing is that the liquor traders did nothing wrong,” he said.


Moreover, the secretary general said even during the 10 days in which they were allowed to operate, they had no business at all. He said this was because while other businesses operated normal hours, liquor outlets were allowed to operate between 11am and 5pm from Monday to Thursday.


“Our businesses were closed during certain days and hours and there was no business at all,” the secretary general added.
He emphasised that since they were expecting to conclude their consultations within two days, they would make proposals to government regarding the best possible way this matter could be handled.

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