Some workers at casinos in Tobago are already feeling the effect of taxes imposed on the industry in the 2018 national budget while others say it is just a matter of time before workers were laid off as a cost cutting measure.
One worker who spoke to Newsday Tobago on the condition of anonymity, said the establishment he worked at hadn’t yet laid off any staff, but he fears that this was just a matter of time before this happens.
The employee, who describes himself as the sole breadwinner of his household, said that he has been working in the industry for the past six years, taking home a minimum of $3,200 a month.
“The owners of these clubs are already looking for ways to cut costs and the first to go will be us the workers. I am already stressed, just the mere idea that I am watching at what is happening within the industry in Trinidad and that my colleagues here in Tobago are silent, that scares me,” he said.
At another casino, workers have already begun to feel the effects of cost-cutting measures.
“We have seen a reduction in the hours at our establishment. We previously had two shifts, now we are working with one shift, so rather than sending
home people what they did was reduce the hours of staff… less hours also means less money,” said one employee.
President of T&T Members Club Association, Sherry Persad, said the effect of the taxes on casinos will see cost cutting measures being implemented, and that workers wouls be adversely affected by this.
“We only represent one of the casinos in Tobago, which is Silver Dollar, that has a branch a Tobago. They have reduced their hours effective November 1, and this has a direct impact on all staff… once equipment and hours are affected, employees will in turn be affected.
“Taxes are paid on equipment and once you downsize equipment, you don’t need as many staff… once you cut hours, you don’t need as many staff and that is why you would find that the effect is really on the employees. We are very concerned, and we are clearly stating that we are not in a position to pay these taxes, once we have to pay these increases it will definitely affect the employees,” she said.
On Friday night, as he wound up debate on a motion to confirm the Provisional Collection of Taxes Order 2017, Finance Minister Colm Imbert claimed casino gambling was the number one source of leakage of foreign exchange in Trinidad and Tobago.The motion was passed around 11 pm.
Imbert, who urged the Opposition to support the tax measures imposed on the casino industry in the 2018 budget, to rid the country of money-laundering and criminality, said owners of such establishments often use cambios, Western Union, Money Gram and the black market to leak foreign exchange.
“You have people who have no means, man of straw walking to a cambio with $30,000 to change it into US to send to China and whatever other country and this is happening, every day, because they deal in cash. They don’t have bank accounts,” he said, adding that most of the casinos were not allowed to have bank accounts.
“The banks don’t deal with them. So they deal in cash and they send the little workers, the same ones who came around the Parliament, the same ones who misbehave in here. The same ones who came shouting outside my house —to send those little workers with $30 and $50,000 to change into US dollars and to export it to Indonesia and China and Turkey,” he claimed.
Imbert told Opposition MPs: “It is the number one source of leakage of foreign exchange in the country and you all need to understand that. It is putting pressure on our foreign exchange system and pressure on our exchange rate.”
Imbert said the measures imposed on the casino sector could become permanent if the Opposition did not support moves to regulate it.