LOYAL workers at one of Scotland’s most famous hotels are struggling during lockdown while the hotel’s new owners spend millions of pounds upgrading facilities.

Staff at the Rusacks Hotel, overlooking the legendary Old Course at St Andrews have been left feeling distinctly under par after being asked to take pay cuts of up to 70% while the hotel is closed for a multi-million pound rebuilding project that will add 45 new rooms and a rooftop restaurant.

Late last year, before the national furlough scheme to support business was extended, general manager Seamus Coen sent a letter to employees at the hotel informing them the hotel would be undergoing “refurbishment”.

The letter, seen by The National, appeared to guarantee that jobs would be available for existing staff only if they agreed to accept a cut in pay for the duration of the closure.

In some cases workers would see their income drop by 70% meaning they would be worse off financially than when they were furloughed during the 2020 lockdown. They were not offered the chance of being furloughed when the scheme was brought back before Christmas.

Several staff reportedly signed the letter because of fears that they would not be able to find any other work in the area which is heavily dependent on tourism. It’s understood that they have been told that they are free to find other work while the hotel is being refurbished.

Some of the staff have been working at the hotel – which was previously part of the MacDonald Group – for many years. One worker hoping to be rehired as a full member of staff told The National that they had been hired on a “zero-hour” contract several years ago but had regularly worked more than 40 hours a week. When the hotel closed in October, zero-hour workers were not offered the chance of a retainer.

“When the new owners first came over from the US and held a meeting for staff, they promised us ‘we will take care of you guys’,” Stuart Cairns, the former restaurant manager, told The National.

“There had been so many things that had made doing the job we want to do – looking after guests – difficult; long hours, without extra pay, not having a contract after I was promoted – and there were safety issues which I’d taken to management but it was just swept under the carpet.

“We thought things would be better but people felt very let down,” added the 34-year-old who has since found other employment and agreed to speak out to The National “because people need to know what hospitality workers have to deal with and because I really feel for those who were on zero hours. People don’t realise how bad things are. No one is doing anything for them”.

“It isn’t that any of us are expecting to be paid for doing nothing but we didn’t expect to be paid next to nothing when the hotel has now decided to suddenly start the works. They’d been telling us it was going to happen for ages but they did it with with very little notice leaving people really hard up.

“If people could have been put on furlough it would have been better because my colleagues have rent and mortgages to pay and I know people are really stressed.”

WITH around 40 staff at Rusacks affected by the closure – plus a number of casual workers who lost their wages outright when the hotel shut down temporarily –questions are being asked as to why the workers who were employed at the time are not receiving a more generous support package from their new employers or put on furlough.

“Management told us they can’t put us on furlough because they closed the hotel to do works,” said an unnamed worker. “They say you can only get furlough if the hotel is closed for Covid reasons. But in that case how do they explain that several of the staff including the general manager are on furlough?”

The business was taken over in 2019 by AJ Capital Partners (AJCPT), a Chicago-based real estate development corporation. The company intends to relaunch Rusacks alongside another wellknown property, The Marine Hotel, Troon, in Ayrshire as part of a new brand, the Marine and Lawn Collection. Before the pandemic the hotels were especially popular with American visitors – and the new owners are hoping to woo them back to Rusacks in time for The Open, which is scheduled to take place in July.

A spokesperson for AJCPT said: "Like most hospitality operations during this pandemic, we are sad to have to make redundancies and salary reductions. We are unable to employ a full staff while undertaking an entire property refurbishment and could not offer the government furlough scheme as this only covers a drop in business due to Covid not renovation work. We followed government guidelines and HMRC advice precisely on this. 

"We recruited a Director of Human Resources in December 2020 who started this month and has made immediate personal contact with all members of staff affected to introduce herself and help guide them through this time.

"As we look forward to reopening later in 2021, Rusacks Hotel will be able to offer more jobs than we could previously as a result of renovations."

The new owners have also poured money into two properties in England which are due to open as the first international outposts of AJCPT’s 35-strong Graduate Hotel Group later this year. This week it was revealed that the company is seeking a cash injection of up to $300 million to pay down debt and finance the expansion moves.

The Rusacks case is by no means unique in Scotland, says Bryan Simpson, hospitality organiser for trade union Unite, which represents more than 4000 members across the country.

“Employers are using every trick in the book to cut wage costs and keep workers dangling because they know how bad the employment outlook is,” he told The National.

“Across Scotland, 58,000 jobs in the sector have already been lost since the start of the pandemic.

“We know businesses are under pressure but [we] would have expected that they would have wanted to show they are not just sticking to the letter of the law, but trying to be genuinely supportive to the people who are key to their success.”