Luxury Kettering hotels sacked dozens of staff by WhatsApp after stonewalling their pleas for furlough

One staff member was told to go to the job centre and apply for universal credit

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 6:36 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 9:32 am
Rushton Hall Hotel and Spa, Rushton

Two upmarket hotels have given some of their loyal staff the sack instead of taking up the government's furlough offer.

Approximately 33 workers at Barton Hall in Barton Seagrave and an unknown number at four-star Rushton Hall Hotel and Spa in Rushton, both in the Kettering district, were given the news that their services were no longer required in spite of the government scheme that pays 80 per cent of the wages of employees unable to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite pleas from those affected, the Hazelton Group, which owns both swanky venues, said it would not be taking advantage of the furloughing scheme for many workers and instead told them to sign on for universal credit. Some found out about their sacking by messaging service WhatsApp.

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Barton Hall, Barton Seagrave

Bosses said that they could not guarantee that staff would be needed again for another nine to twelve months. They also said that they had to prioritise looking after the listed building.

Staff at both hotels got in touch with the Northants Telegraph after contacting local councillors and MP Tom Pursglove who have intervened on their behalf - to no avail.

Callum Richardson, 20, from Corby was one of those staff laid off at the end of March at the same time as the government furlough scheme was announced. He had worked as a supervisor at Rushton Hall Hotel & Spa for a year-and-a-half up until December 2019, when he left for another job, only to return to the hotel in February to take on another role on a full-time contract.

He said: "I got my P45 and a letter through the post saying they were unable to keep me on as there was no work.

"It's a kick in the gut as some workers there do 60 or 70 hours a week. We work so, so hard.

"We're not sure how many have been let go and how many have been kept on. We know there are some that have been furloughed but not how many."

The nature of the leisure industry means that many workers are seasonal or casual so may not have continuous employment for the hotels. Most of those given their marching orders are believed to be those who have been employed for under a year.

Councillor Mark Pengelly has been negotiating with Rushton Hall on behalf of Callum. He said: "We know that the furlough scheme might not last forever and there may not be jobs for these people a few months down the line but right now the scheme is available and it seems shortsighted not to use it.

"I'm really, really disappointed in them.

"It won't cost them anything right now.

"These people are all now likely to end up on universal credit.

"Tom Pursglove has also been on the case and he's done his best but they haven't budged."

Both hotels are owned by the family-run Hazelton Group, with Valerie and Thomas Hazelton as directors.

At Grade II-listed Barton Hall in Barton Seagrave, staff said that they knew of at least 33 of them who were let go, 12 of whom were full-timers given the boot before the government announced the closure of the leisure industry.

When the furlough scheme was announced, those staff who had been let go got in touch with Barton Hall to ask bosses to reconsider.

A source said: "When asked if they would re-employ these members after the furlough scheme was announced as that was what the government was urging employers to do, they refused.

"Twelve members of staff in front of house that were on casual contracts were then sent their P45s. We were notified of this via a work WhatsApp group chat and received no formal letter or email from Valerie (Hazelton) or management above our own manager, even after we requested letters to acknowledge our hard work and service, which we were told we would receive on April 1.

"To the best of our knowledge we have not yet received these. We were asking for an explanation of our dismissal as a gap in our CVs would be seemingly unexplained to new employers due to the availability of the furlough scheme.

"At no point were any of these members of staff contacted by higher management.

"Those on full time contracts waited around a week to hear if they would be put on the furlough scheme.

"Since our dismissal, we have had no contact or updates from Barton.

"We as a collective of former staff members feel as though Barton Hall have acted in an unprofessional manner in the events caused by Covid-19 and feel unappreciated for the hard work, loyalty and dedication as well as love for the job that we all showed.

Despite several attempts to speak to the Hazeltons, messages from the Northants Telegraph were not returned. However, a letter send from owner Valerie Hazelton to one member of staff last month said: "The furlough scheme will end on May 31, 2020, but it is very unlikely that our hotel will be fully operational again until early 2021.

"We will need to rebuild our customer base again and that could take us well into 2021 before we need the same levels of staff again.

"The hotel being a listed building is very costly to operate and therefore we have had to make some very difficult decisions to cut costs for the long-term sustainability of the business...

"You must understand that when we do reopen our business model will be very different and we expect the majority of jobs that we have let go now may not exist for nine to 12 months or more.

"I assure you that our decisions have not been taken lightly and as owners we are desperately sorry that we have had to make these painful decisions in the interest of survival and the hope that we will be able to rebuild the business in 2021.

"I would advise that you contact Job Centre Plus or go online to obtain advice about benefits, such as Universal Credit."