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TCI: Press Statement from the Leader of The Opposition – Boomerang Politics

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#Providenciales, July 25, 2018 – Turks and Caicos

OFFICE OF THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

N.J.S. Francis Building

Pond Street, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Telephone: (649) 338-3706, Email: cwmisick@gov.tc

Providenciales Turks and Caicos Islands – July 24, 2018 

Press Statement from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition

 

Service Charge and Boomerang Politics.

The following opinion by the Leader of the Opposition appeared in Volume 31 No. 26 page 10 of Turks & Caicos Weekly News – see link

https://issuu.com/tcweeklynews/docs/july_1-7__2017_-_all_pages.

 

Service Charge Debate – Deceit or naivety 

The confusion around the equitable distribution of what has become known as ‘service charge’ is caused by a combination of the inexcusable deceit and naivety by some politicians who have misled hospitality workers and the public for their own ends.  On this issue, the Premier prevarication is most offensive to a block of voters who she unequivocally pledged to ensure that 100% of the service charge is given. Since it is now clear that she has wised up to the fact that that promise was impractical, and not one that she can deliver – the poetry of campaign must now give way to the prose of governing. That requires a clear policy decision anchored in legislation.

The truth is that today’s ‘service charge’ defined in the Ordinance as ‘Any amount of money charged over and above the price of accommodation in a hotel, or the selling price of a meal or intoxicating liquor or beverage purchased by a customer, for service to a guest or customer, in a hotel or restaurant, but does not include any tax to be paid under any ordinance’ is an amalgamation of two add-ons to the published rates for the provision of hospitality services provided by some establishments prior to January 2004. In any case there were no obligations by establishments to collect or pay neither gratuity nor service charge to employees; and in fact, all-inclusive properties did not collect nor pay gratuity to employees before 2004.

To remove subjectivity from the system the Ordinance made it mandatory that all-inclusive properties levy and pay a 10% service charge to their employees.  At the same time, recognizing the practice of other categories of hotels (that levied a 10% charge broken down into a 6% gratuity and a 4% resort fee) it left it to the discretion of management of the individual hotels to collect a service charge.  However, the Ordinance does provide that if a service charged is collected 60% must be paid to employees. This reasoning is flawed – unless of course those establishments levy a charge sufficiently above 10% so that the 60% equate to the rate paid by the all-inclusive.  Considering that all employers are required to pay the minimum wage whether all-inclusive or otherwise, and assuming parity of wage rates and other benefits across categories of employment obtains those persons working in non-inclusive hotels may very well be at a disadvantage.

The existing legislation is clear that the service charge levied by non-all-inclusive hotels is intended to be shared at minimum in the ratio 60:40 to employees and the business – reflecting the practice of many hotels at the time the ordinance was introduced. Establishments that are not adhering to the law are committing an offence. On the other hand, there is much confusion over the definition of the terminologies: gratuity, service charge and tips.

It is therefore necessary to contextualize the argument and suggest possible solution by defining the terms. Gratuity (tip) “a voluntary payment by patrons to service professionals as an expression of gratefulness for extraordinary service”. Albeit the subjectivity of the judgement of patrons impacts the aggregate amount of gratuity available to be shared among the staff.  While a service charge is also additional payment on a service provided by a service professional it is mandatory rather than elective and may or may not deliver additional pay to the service professional who provides the service unless required by law.

In my view, the provision of hospitality services is a profession like any other, and it is right that it should not be left up to the discretion of patrons or hotel operators to, effectively set the pay for hospitality employees. Therefore, the idea of legally establishing an add-on to guests bills ringed fenced for hospitality workers is reasonable.  On the other hand, a cover charge to a hospitality service establishment is standard in the industry; additionally, in a high-end tourism destination where customized service is demanded the level of hidden cost to a business is high; Allowance should also be made for non-cash benefits to employees including meals, transportation, uniform and training. Under those circumstances businesses not only earn a legitimate claim to a portion of the service charge but it is necessary for them to compete and prosper. We must remember that our survival depends on our ability to compete.

Finally, the current range of service charge in the TCI varies from 10% to 18% depending on the establishment – with all-inclusive properties pegged at 10% of which 100% goes to the employee.  It therefore stands to reason that the amount paid to employees ought to be synchronized at an effective rate of 10% across categories of properties.  This effective rate may be achieved through benefits in cash and kind. A commonsense compromise among all stakeholders encourages productivity, improve customer satisfaction and improves the bottom line of the business.  Employees should not have to wait until Christmas for the necessary adjustment. The necessary amendment to the legislation to achieve a win-win solution should be done imminently.

Stifling of debate by the majority on issues it deliberately misrepresented does not of itself dispose of the problem, especially one that relates to the life-blood of the economy and the livelihood of people they purport to represent. Tourism and the welfare of hospitality workers should never be treated as a game of cricket. While I understand that the Premier faced batting from a self-inflected sticky wicket it is disappointing that she pulled up her stumps instead of defending her wicket.

 

Boomerang Politics

Fast forward to July 2018 the Premier created a smoke screen to walk back her ridiculous promise when in fact little will change for the hospitality worker, except now the discretion levy a service charge is remove and replaced with a legal obligation to do so. There will be no real appreciable change in the take home pay of an employee. The share of the service charge paid to employees by an establishment now applying a service charge of 15% to its bills, the proceeds of which is split 60:40 equates to 9% of the total bill; by the same token, an establishment charging 18% service charge pays its employees 10.8% of the total bill. Under the government’s proposal employees in the 15% scenario gets an uplift of 1% and employees in the 18% scenario losses 4/5th of 1%

The decision by the Government to cast in legislation a common rate for participation by all hospitality workers adapts my opinion in July 2017 and is the right thing to do. The bill is otherwise unnecessarily intrusive and in principle interferes with the invisible hands of the free market to the extent that it seeks to restrict what individual operators can charge for adding extraordinary value to their service delivery. This makes the assumption that service quality is homogeneous and it encourages the commoditization of the service that otherwise thrive on differentiation.

Without making the poacher the game-keeper, the Government having waited this long should take seriously the advice of all stakeholders including operators, customers and workers to ensure unintended design flaws do not negatively impact the industry causing another boomerang effect.

 

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Caribbean News

RTCIPF Marine Branch and USCG Working Together in Keeping Our Borders Secure

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#TurksandCaicos, May 20, 2022 – During the afternoon of Wednesday 19th May 2022, a call was made to the RTCIPF Marine Operations Centre via VHF radio that a suspicious vessel was sighted around 35 miles south east of Providenciales. The operator immediately updated colleagues within the Royal Turks and Caicos Marine Branch who made their way to the location and with the support of a US Coast Guard (USCG) plane, safely intercepted an overloaded vessel carrying irregular migrants.

Following delicate coordination and the stabilization of the boat which was unsafe, severely overcrowded and none of the occupants was wearing life vests, the RTCIPF marine unit was joined by a second RTCIPF Marine crew and a third vessel crewed with TCI Regiment and Tactical Unit officers to support the delicate operation.

The vessel was carefully offloaded at sea to ensure the safety of the occupants after which, the boat was towed to South Dock where it arrived around 10:30pm with a total of 110 persons (84 males and 24 females and 2 juveniles) who were then taken into custody by the Immigration Department.

Superintendent Martyn Ball said, “Once again working with partners we have safely intercepted another vessel that was overcrowded, unsafe, risking the lives of those on board. This demonstrates the professionalism and dedication of the RTCIPF Marine Unit, working together with colleagues in the Marine Operations Centre, USCG, TCI Regiment, TCI Immigration and the RTCIPF Tactical Unit to save lives and keep our borders here in the Turks and Caicos safe.  In the last couple of months around 768 individuals on 8 dangerous vessels have been intercepted which is testament to the professionalism of our teams here in the TCI and I am very grateful to the passing vessel who raised the alarm.  I would appeal to anyone if you have any information relating to such activity that you call Crimes Stoppers free and anonymously on 1-800-8477 (TIPS) not only will you be saving lives but also supporting our national security here in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

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Education

Ten Selected for the TCREA Real Estate Mentorship Program

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#TurksandCaicos, May 20, 2022 – Since the official announcement of the Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association’s High School Mentorship Program, ten mentees have been selected for the inaugural group and will begin their journey on the road to embracing the fundamentals of the real estate field this month.

TCREA Ambassador and Director of the mentorship program, Mr. Trevor Musgrove, shared how pleased the committee was to have received thirty applications for the program, “We extended the opportunity to high schoolers and young college students aged 13-17.  Initially, the invitation for applications was shared only with Providenciales students because of the logistical challenge to accommodate in-person sessions with sister island students, as all our committee members are based in Providenciales.

Luckily, once the Ministry of Education came on board and endorsed the program, Honourable Rachel Taylor immediately encouraged us to extend the mentorship opportunity to all islands, pledging her Ministry’s commitment to handling the necessary authorizations and cost to ensure successful applicants outside of Provo would be able travel here as needed,” said Musgrove.

 The successful applicants and their respective schools are as follows:

·     Clement Howell High – Dashawn Brooks, Alyssa Callum

·      Raymond Gardiner High – Olique Stubbs, Lewis Walkin, Jr.

·      Precious Treasures – Aniyah Bovie

·      Maranatha Academy – Shamya Missick

·      British West Indies Collegiate – Pavla Lalakova, Andino Parker

·      Louise Garland Thomas High – Abnise Noel, Antoine Gedeon

Musgrove said they were pleased to have had applicants from North Caicos and were hopeful to have students from Grand Turk and South Caicos among the group, however no applications were received from those islands.

On Tuesday, May 10th the final group came together for a virtual meet-up and briefing, where they were formally introduced to the program’s mentors and were given an overview of what to expect in the coming months.

The teens will receive a monthly educational module over the next six months and will be provided 1-2 weeks to internalize the information. They will then enjoy a monthly in-person session with their mentors where they will put their real estate acumen to the test in interactive sessions, field trips, and more.

Program mentor Manfred Smith of Sotheby’s Turks & Caicos shared his elation for the program’s momentum thus far, “We are excited about providing this opportunity to introduce high school students to the real estate industry.  From the initial feedback, the students are also very keen to learn, which makes it rewarding for all as we contribute to the development of tomorrow’s professionals.”

Smith says the program also demonstrates TCREA’s continued commitment as good corporate citizens in the rapidly growing country.  The committee hopes that the mentees would grasp all that they can as they continue their educational pursuits.

The program’s Facebook page, @tcreamentors, is live and will document the group’s journey as they move through the program’s phases.  Along with Musgrove and Smith, the community can get to know more about the other committee members: Blair MacPherson of REMAX; Nina Siegenthaler of Sotheby’s; Vernica Delancy and Dedra Gray of Keller Williams; and Sean O’neill, of The Agency through the social media page as well.

At the end of the program, the students will sit a mock real estate license exam and will enjoy a retreat for a fun and memorable close-out. 

It is TCREA’s hope that this initiative will garner an interest and appreciation for the industry among high-schoolers and will act as springboard to the development of the next generation of local real estate professionals in these islands.

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News

DECR Launches Important Tropical Plant Areas & Species in TCI Project

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#TurksandCaicos, May 19, 2022 – The Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) along with visiting scientists from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) will launch the DarwinPlus 114 Project Tropical Important Plant Areas and Important Plant Species in TCI. The project was originally to begin in May 2020, but with Covid-19-related travel restrictions, along with restructuring at DECR and RBG Kew, two years of deferments were necessary. The project has begun and will be officially launched this week in a workshop on Thursday 12 May 2022 beginning at 9:00 AM in the National Environmental Centre.

In reference to the project, DECR Director Lormeka Williams stated, “With the recent completion of the National Physical Development Plan, the signing of the Climate Change Charter, and the review of the National Parks Ordinance, we are poised and ready to utilise new information on land use and impacts to our Protected Areas and green spaces. We are newly energised to commit to the discovery and description of our most sensitive and significant plant diversity hotspots. We’re inspired by our colleagues in the British Virgin Islands having completed the pilot of this project. We are also ready and excited to find out what these plants are that evade identification and may prove to be something unknown to science.”

The project is focused on identifying Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs) in Turks and Caicos Islands. TIPAs are a network of the key sites for wild plants and threatened habitats identified using scientifically robust data. They are not legal designations, but a means to identify the most important sites for wild plant diversity and to inform the protection and management of sites. Identifying TIPAs will help prevent the global loss of plant diversity, whilst safeguarding the role of plants as primary producers and providers of ecosystem infrastructure, products, and services.

TIPAs also provides a framework for Governments to implement target 5 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Global Strategy for Plant Conservation – to ensure the protection of at least 75% of the most important areas for plant diversity of each ecological region by 2020 with effective management in place for conserving plants and their genetic diversity. TIPAs also contribute to implementing the CBD’s Aichi Biodiversity Target 12 – by 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained. Criteria for identification of Tropical Important Plant Areas were developed, and the first nationwide project was completed by RBG Kew and the Virgin Islands National Parks Trust in the British Virgin Islands in 2019. Assistant Director of Research and Development B Naqqi Manco participated in the April 2019 BVI TIPAs Workshop, and discussed the potential to replicate the project with long-established partners at RBG Kew in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Following the TCI TIPAs Launch Workshop, the DECR and RBG Kew team will trial the criteria over several sites of high plant diversity in Providenciales, North Caicos, and Middle Caicos. Over the next three years, the teams will cover other islands as well. Of particular importance will be the Turks and Caicos Islands eight known endemic plant species – those found nowhere else on earth. A secondary component of the project focuses on investigating some unique populations of rare plants in TCI, which may constitute new varieties or even species. RBG Kew will use DNA analysis to explore the relationship of these species to their closest relatives. Importantly, the rare and endemic species will be targeted for IUCN Red Data Listing as well, to assess their wild population status and trends.

 

Release: DECR

Photo: This beautiful Encyclia orchid is one of the unique groups of plants that will be studied by the project.

 

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