KT exclusive: 'Unpaid staff' of Dubai hotel struggle to survive Filed on September 9, 2020 | Last updated on September 9, 2020 at 06.27 am
Unpaid, over a year, staff, iconic, Dubai hotel, dire straits

(Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times)

The hotel was built 50 years ago by then Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Employees of one of the oldest hotels in Dubai - now shut for renovation - claim they are stranded in the country without salaries and jobs.

Nearly 37 employees of Ambassador Hotel, located on Al Falah street in Bur Dubai, alleged that many of them had not been paid for nearly two years. They feared that their employer, who is currently in India, had abandoned them "to starve and die".

The owner, Raju Lulla, however, denied the allegations, saying that the hotel would be back in operation and the staff would be paid as soon as he is back in the UAE.

The hotel was built 50 years ago by then Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. From being a favourite haunt of well-heeled residents, as well as tourists and celebrities, it is now occupied by its own employees.

"I have not been paid for more than a year and a half. The company owes me Dh55,000 in pending salaries and end-of-service benefits. The only good side is I am not sleeping on the streets and I am living in the hotel itself," Pravin Solanki, who joined the hotel as a bartender in 1997, told Khaleej Times.

"But all day, we are sitting in the room. We are penniless. We cannot go out due to coronavirus. Our families are starving back home. We see no light at the end of the tunnel."

The Indian expat, who hailed from the state of Gujarat, said the management offered him free ticket and Dh1,000 to fly home, which he declined.

"The PRO told me to take the money and go back home. But I am asking for my hard-earned salary," said Solanki, 58.

The expat said he desperately needed the money to pay for his son's kidney transplant. "He is 26 years old and has been living on dialysis. I have been counting on my end-of-service benefits to give him a new life."

Help from charity

Solanki is among some of the oldest staff members, who have seen the hotel through its glorious days to its slow decline that ultimately brought the shutters down. Many old-timers returned home last year before the hotel was closed down for renovation in September 2019.

But those who stayed back are facing an uncertain future, with no means to survive.

"How long can we survive like this? We are alive because a charity is sending us food twice a day. We do not have a penny in our pockets. Our visas are expired," said Pramod Patwardhan, a receptionist who joined the hotel in 2017.

He claimed he was paid only for two months in 2018. "I don't remember the last time I sent money home. My family is struggling to make ends meet. My father-in-law is taking care of the expenses," said Patwardhan.

More than a dozen people interviewed by Khaleej Times narrated the same ordeal of non-payment of salaries and the uncertainties of what would happen tomorrow.

Losing all hope that the management will keep its promises, some employees filed a legal case against the employer. Court papers show that the workers have got a favourable verdict, which ordered the owner to settle the dues.

"Some 18 of us went to court to get our salaries. We attended a few sessions and got the verdict, too. But nothing has come out of it as there is no one from the management side in the country," said Pranav Sagar, a kitchen supervisor from Uttarakhand in India.

The Indian Consulate said it was aware of the problem and had tried to reach the HR manager. "He said he himself was not paid for months. We were informed that the owner is in India. If any of the workers wants to go home, the Consulate is willing to extend all help," said Neeraj Agarwal, consul for Press, information and culture at the Consulate.

Owner speaks up 

When contacted by Khaleej Times, the owner of Ambassador Hotel, Raju Lulla, said he had settled the dues of more than 200 employees before closing the hotel for renovation.

"There are a few left. I flew to India in March for medical treatment and nobody thought the coronavirus will last this long. Most of my senior management staff are in India at the moment and I don't have anyone responsible in Dubai to take care of the employees. As soon as the flights are regularised, we will sit down with each one of them, settle their payments, and fly them home," said Lulla over phone from India.

He said the employees were shifted from their accommodation in Al Quoz because of the pandemic. "I have generously accommodated them in the hotel. And they are still complaining?"

When asked about the unpaid salaries, Lulla insisted that he does not have any funding issues and that he was "punishing them like a father for their misbehaviour".

"I will be back in Dubai in October and the renovation work will start soon. We are part of the Dubai heritage and I want my hotel to be all ready for Dubai Expo 2021," said Lulla. 



Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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