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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Sign on the hotel window that staff say was in response to the sit-in protest on Friday.
# Nuremore Hotel
Staff at Co Monaghan hotel stage sit-in protest in dispute over wages
The hotel was acquired by an investment fund in 2020.

STAFF AT A hotel in Co Monaghan staged a sit-in protest last Friday due to wages allegedly not being paid on time – and plan to hold a second one if the issue persists. 

On Friday, staff at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross held the sit-in protest over the issue, which they allege has been “going on for months and months”.

One staff member at the four-star hotel and country club, who spoke to The Journal on the condition of anonymity, said staff felt it was “the only thing that we could do”.

Other staff members detailed the stress the situation has put them under, particularly coming up to Christmas. 

The Journal has now learned that there will be temporary lay-offs from the hotel in January due to renovations. 

The hotel also has links to a Chinese businessman whose company was taken to the Workplace Relations Commission for non-payment of wages. In 2020, the Nuremore Hotel was acquired by the Kylin Prime Group, an investment firm founded by chinese entrepreneur Kai Dai.

Dai also founded Huawen Foundation, a cash-for-visa firm which offers investors an opportunity to avail of Irish residency under a government scheme (the immigrant investment programme – IIP).

The foundation’s registered address is the Nuremore Hotel, since February of this year.

Sit-in protest

Issues with delays in payment of wages have been ongoing for months, staff told this publication. A worker from the Nuremore Hotel said that an email was sent to staff over four months ago, stating that wages would be paid on time from that time forward. 

However, the issues with wages being late have persisted and the situation came to a head last Friday, when many staff were owed two weeks’ wages, they said. This culminated in a sit-in.

“We have meetings with management every Thursday but nothing was being resolved. So a group chat was set up and close to 30 of us sat together,” they explained. 

“The general manager came down a few times to speak to us. He wanted us to go back to work, but we said we weren’t going back to work until we were paid.”

Chef Samantha Kolosovaite helped to organise the sit-in on Friday.

Speaking to The Journal, she said: “The last time I opened my bank account,  I saw there is no wages for two weeks.

I decided to go and stand for all the people and started saying, ‘we have to do something’. So I said, ‘let’s go and do a sit-in protest about not getting paid on time.’

Kolosovaite added that she went to the hotel last Wednesday in an attempt to get her wages because her rent was due at the end of the month. She said she only received her wages “because I was begging”. 

Hotel statement

In a statement to The Journal, management of the Nuremore Hotel said: “We deeply regret the delays in paying employees’ wages on time. This was due to an issue outside the control of hotel management.

“We can confirm that all employees have now been paid in full and we have received assurances that the issue has been resolved and will not happen again.

We greatly value our employees and the contribution they make to our hotel, and we have apologised to them for the disruption and any anxiety this may have caused.

Since the sit-in, the hotel has told staff of the temporary layoffs due to upcoming renovations.

In response to The Journal, management of the hotel said: “The Nuremore Hotel was acquired by the present owners in February 2020 just as the pandemic occurred. As a result of Covid restrictions over the last two years, we postponed refurbishment works including to our bedrooms, the reception and lounge areas.

“These necessary works are now due to take place from January to March so that we are in a position to accommodate guests during the busy tourist season this spring and summer. Our Leisure Center and Golf Course will, however, remain open during this time.

“Unfortunately the refurbishment will involve temporary lay-offs for employees in the affected areas, and we have been in discussions with those involved.

On completion of this project, we look forward to welcoming back all our loyal staff who are so important to the future of our hotel along with our existing and new customers.”

Engagement

Local Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy went to the hotel last Friday in an attempt to remedy the situation.

Speaking to The Journal yesterday, he said: “Most if not all of the staff received the notice of the temporary layoff from the first of January for three months, apparently to carry out maintenance work.”

Deputy Carthy described this move as “very strange”. He added that he knows of a number of events that have been cancelled as a result of the temporary closure. 

A staff member confirmed to The Journal that hotel will be closed from 1 January for a period of around 12 weeks for renovation.

Carthy said Siptu has been engaging with staff at the hotel and has agreed to offer advisory support.

He added: “The manner in which staff have been treated is unacceptable. For people to have worked and not been paid on time isn’t an acceptable way of doing business.

The manner in which renovation works, as they are being described, have been announced is deeply concerning. That has happened at a time when staff have begun to publicly raise issues in terms of their pay, and then all of a sudden they were informed in December, that from 1 January, renovations were going to take place.

“The fact that there were bookings for the period in which the renovations are due to take place would appear to suggest that this is a last-minute development.

As well as the very genuine concern for the workers and their livelihoods, there is also a wider concern now in the community for the owner’s plans for the future of the hotel considering it is a very important hospitality location for the south Monaghan area.

“There is now an urgent need for the owners of the hotel to be upfront and clear in terms of what their future intentions are.”

‘Money not there at the moment’

Employee Samantha Kolosovaite said the hotel’s general manager gathered the staff on Friday after the sit-in protest and phoned someone connected to the hotel who explained the issue with wages to staff over speaker-phone.

In audio of the meeting, a voice can be heard over speaker-phone saying: “We either work this thing through, you want to really get paid, or you force them to close the door. 

If he closes the door, you’ll get paid because it’ll be in the future, and there’ll be a receiver appointed, the place will be sold, and everybody will be paid in the future.

“Otherwise, what’s his choice? Close the door. Because the money is not there at the moment.”

The voice on the phone added: “It’s better that we work this thing through, we get over this weekend, you’ll have all your money up to date.

“Then we sit down again with every member of staff and we explain the situation going forward with regard to what is planned with the building.

“We are going to close for a period of time, we are going to do the renovation work, during that period everyone will be able to sign on.

“And whatever shortfall they have in their money when we re-open again, they will get paid in full.” 

During the telephone conversation, it’s understood an agreement was made that wages from two weeks ago would be paid that evening. 

Meanwhile, last week’s wages would be paid last Monday and the current week’s wages are due to be paid today.

Staff had been considering holding a second protest if Monday’s installment was not paid, but they received a message at around 4pm to say that the wages had indeed been paid.

However, staff say they will hold a second sit-in protest if an issue arises today, when staff are next due to be paid. 

An email from the general manager in June of this year, which has been viewed by The Journal, made reference to “cashflow” issues in regards to late payment of wages.

The June email added: “I have spoken to the owner in the last hour who has assured me it is the last week this will happen.”

Despite this promise in June, the issues have persisted. The staff member who spoke anonymously said that no one wanted it to come to this but that it was the only option left available.

“It’s the only option we feel we have. Christmas is coming, and we just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel at the minute, just broken promises all the time.

In the last few weeks, people have just given up and are down in the dumps but still trying to come in and do a job.

‘Everybody’s worried’

The staff member said wages would appear in their accounts on previous occasions when sit-in protests had been threatened during weekly meetings with management. 

However, they said last Friday was the final straw, which is why they held the sit-in.

“We just felt that we had to do it. We don’t want to be coming into work and not getting paid on busy times. There’s families that work in the hotel, so the whole family is working here and that’s nobody able to pay a bill at home.

“Everybody’s worried about what we’re doing, ‘Are we doing the right thing having a sit down protest? Should I say this, should I not say this?’

“People today [Friday] have not worked so won’t get a wage for today, which is even more of a strain. But it’s the only thing that we feel is making us be heard.”

Kolosovaite said she would love to remain at the hotel, but that it is getting difficult “because of all this drama”.

Everyone who’s working there, they are brilliant people. Very good workers and very good friends, but not the management and not the company.”

Liga Kondrate, who has been working at the Nuremore hotel for the last five years, also spoke to The Journal.

She said she initially began working as a pastry chef, but since the company changed hands she has also been filling in as head chef due to staff shortages.

She says that on several occasions she has had to wait until the next week to get her weekly paycheque, with no explanation from her employers.

“For me, the problem began in July, one week I would get paid, the next I would be told that the money was coming, but that I had to wait,” Kondrate said.

The Latvian chef said fears that she won’t get paid properly ahead of Christmas are causing her a great deal of stress, and at some points she has even felt depressed.

“We don’t have enough staff, so some days you are working from the morning until finish at night. I live in Cavan Town so whether they pay me or not I still have to pay for fuel to drive the hour to work, some weeks I have been afraid that I wouldn’t have enough money to get to work,” she said.

She said she was “really worried” about the prospect of the hotel closing for a few months for renovation next year.

Kondrate said she is aware that hotels up and down the country are hiring chefs, but that walking away “isn’t that easy”.

“I have loyalty to the other staff in my kitchen. I have worked there for five years and I don’t want to walk away without what I am owed.”

New owners

The Nuremore Hotel was purchased by the Kylin Prime Group in 2020. Speaking to The Meath Chronicle at the time of the sale, long-time owner and managing director Julie Gilhooly said the time had come to retire after a long career in the Irish hospitality industry.

“We have been in business for over 50 years in Carrickmacross,” she told the paper.

“During that time, we are proud and privileged to have become an integral part of the community.”

At that time, Philippe Rousseau, the then-group hotel head of finance and operations at Kylin Prime Group, said the group looked “forward to operating the hotel and playing an active role in the community”.

Registered in Ireland with Kai Dai as its director, Kylin Prime Capital Ltd’s latest publicly available accounts only cover the period to the end of 2019, before the purchase of the Nuremore Hotel.

Company records show that the company has had three directors resign since 2020.

Two resigned on the same day, 24 December 2020, while its secretary resigned on 13 March 2022.

Dai is also the director of Nuremore Hotel Management Limited, which filed its latest financial statement for the year ended 31 December 2020. It noted net liabilities of about €18,080 and that “the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is considered to be a significant event after the Balance Sheet date. The long-term effects of the pandemic on the company are uncertain and the directors continue to monitor the situation.”

In that financial statement, the company said it was supported through loans from the “director and related parties”. The director confirmed that “the loan facilities will continue to be available for at least 12 months from the date of signing these financial statements and the director and related parties will continue to support the company. Given the current position, the director believes that any foreseeable debts can be met for at least 12 months from the date of signing these financial statements.”

Cash-for-visa schemes

Kylin Prime Group was set up by Chinese businessman and serial entrepreneur Kai Dai. Dai also founded the Huawen Foundation, an international investment migration and investment advisory company which says it aids “globally minded investors interested in developing links to Ireland”.

On its website, Huawen Foundation says it offers investment opportunities, including in Leixlip Manor Hotel and Gardens which it also acquired. While on its website Huawen Foundation’s address is down as Stephen’s Green, Dublin, records online show that its registered address was changed to Nuremore Hotel and Country Club.

On its website, it says that its investment opportunities qualify for Irish residence under the Irish Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), which was introduced in 2012. The scheme allows for individuals with a net worth of more than €2 million to be issued with a visa if they invest at least €1 million in the country.

Under it, investors and their nominated family members can get residency in Ireland, under Stamp 4 conditions – meaning they can work, study or start their own business in Ireland.

The Department of Justice commissioned an external review of the IIP programme in 2019. Figures released by Minister of Justice Helen McEntee show that up until February 2021, 1,197 applications were approved under this scheme.

Recently, two complaints were brought against Huawen Foundation at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). 

In March 2022, the WRC found that a complaint brought against Huawen Foundation about non-payment of wages was well founded, and awarded the complainant, Daoquan Zhang, €12,400.

Zhang told the WRC that he started working for Huawen Foundation in 2017, and was paid up to and including October 2020. He continued to work remotely but was not paid after that, and Huawen Foundation did not reply to his enquiries about the situation. He resigned at the end of January 2021 and claimed he was owed €12,400. Huawen Foundation did not attend the hearing, and made no engagement with the WRC.

In April 2022, a case was taken by Brian McCarthy against ‘Huawen Foundation Limited Kylin Prime’ at the Workplace Relations Commission. He was seeking statutory redundancy, and maintained that Huawen Foundation Limited Kylin Prime had closed down unexpectedly without notice. Huawen Foundation Limited Kylin Prime is described by the WRC as providing an information service for overseas students.

The company did not attend the hearing and McCarthy was awarded a redundancy payment.

Meanwhile, as the Business Post reported in May of this year a Chinese millionaire is suing the Huawen Foundation in the High Court over “fears it has ceased operations in Ireland”. The newspaper then reported in October that Dai’s legal team has not been able to reach him to get instructions since July 2022. However, Dai has insisted that the company is still operational in Ireland. 

And the management of the Nuremore Hotel also insist that there will be prompt payment of wages to staff in the future. 

Kylin Prime Group has been approached for comment, but has not responded to date. 

-With additional reporting from Eimer McAuley and Aoife Barry

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