The boycott of the Starlite Pharmacy chain is one of the factors that led to the decision to reduce the hours and salaries of staff at the business says Starlite Group managing director Gerald Aboud.
A Starlite Group memo dated June 17, and signed by Aboud, asked employees to accept a further reduction in their working hours and an equal reduction in salary effective June 18. It said the reduction would vary by position and department, and it was understandable if employees chose to leave.
It said this was an economically challenging time and the move was necessary to decrease expenses, increase revenue and ensure the survival of the Starlite Group, which includes a plaza in Diego Martin. In addition, every month the organisation’s finances would be monitored and the decision would be re-evaluated.
“This was an extremely tough decision and we understand the impact this will have on you and your family. However, please know that we considered several other alternatives and the choice we made is the best option at this time and will have the least impact on our employees overall.”
Speaking to Sunday Newsday, Aboud said the Starlite Group had over 150 employees. The pharmacies are in Maraval, Diego Martin and South Park, San Fernando
He said working hours and salaries were reduced during the covid19 lockdown but employees were given a bonus to compensate. Reports from staff said the cut was 20 per cent and the bonus was $800.
In addition, Aboud said the human-resource cost of running a pharmacy was very high. He said generally his stores carried more staff to give customers better service, and their minimum starting salary was over 50 per cent more than the national minimum wage.
He said staff members were hired based on sales, costs, projections and other factors. And even a two-week boycott in a business the size of Starlite would be significant.
“If you decide to boycott a business when things are already difficult, what do you expect to happen?... This additional strain has obviously put us under additional stress.”
There was a call to boycott Starlite after Aboud made statements on the Black Lives Matter movement on his Facebook account, on June 2, that were considered by some to be racist.
“I think I have been unduly attacked. I think they are being excessive. I made an insensitive comment and apologised.
"But Starlite is not just a business. We are a network of thousands of local people... So when someone says we’re going to boycott Starlite, you’re not just boycotting Starlite. You’re boycotting your own people, putting many people’s businesses in jeopardy.”
He said the boycott was also affecting the local economy in terms of his suppliers, including bakers, makers of soup, yogurt and juice, farmers, fishermen, chocolate growers and suppliers, coffee bean suppliers and much more.
“In the non-food market, we work with local manufacturers on creams, soaps and many other products and even crafts people. We have created a marketplace for many to sell their products and have actively sought out local manufacturers instead of foreign ones... We know if you empower the community around you, slowly but surely you start to lift the lives of people around you and help the economy, because people have jobs.”
In addition, during the lockdown, Starlite gave a ten per cent discount on all items and a discount on meals for several weeks.
“We didn’t make any money on meals, and meals are a big part of our business. We did that to help because we understood that people would be under some financial strain during covid.”
Another contributor, he said, was that in the last two or three years profit margins continued to decline as the economy worsened, and pharmacies became more competitive as other businesses, including Pennywise, PriceSmart, and supermarkets, began to stock pharmaceuticals.