Retail companies urge Economy Minister to safeguard their interests

Coronavirus-Belt-covid19

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Owners of retail companies have written to Prime Minister Robert Abela and Economy Minister Silvio Schembri urging them to implement measures that would safeguard their interests. Speaking about the measures announced by the government on Saturday, the companies said that such measures do not apply for their business model since in their case, employees are required to make direct contact with their clients.

A national lockdown has not yet been called, however, educational institutions and other institutions have been closed due to the ongoing situation with coronavirus. In their letter, the signatories noted that despite the absence of a national lockdown, the majority of the community is observing the local authorities’ direct and implied advice and thus holding back from social contact, which largely and directly impacts non-essential shopping.

“Furthermore, our sector also has a significant reliance on the tourism industry, which, at this stage is practically non-existent,” they wrote.

On Saturday, most of their stores were at best trading at just 15% of what we used to trade last year.

“Trading at these levels, and possibly even worse within the coming days, is having devastating effects on our businesses. Like other industries, we too have the added complication of having to manage the “uneasiness and fear” of our staff coming in contact with customers. None of us can sustain this position for more than a couple of days and, unfortunately, we cannot see the situation returning to normality any time soon.”

“All of us have employees, stocks, rents, IT systems, utilities and stores to manage during this delicate period. Unlike other service providers who, in these circumstances, would be in a position to continue operating and levying their fees on our sector remotely, our business model is in a unique position of requiring the physical presence of the majority of employees within our stores,” they said.

In their letter the signatories have put forward a number of proposals which would give them a temporary lifeline. These include:

• An official confirmation that the deferral of fiscal payments as has been recently announced also includes our sector;
• Confirmation that the above deferral will not incur any interest and penalties;
• A temporary six-month break altogether or a downward revision of the VAT rate
• A Temporary adjustment to employees’ tax rates
• Amendments within employment legislation so as to allow flexibility for employers to reduce the number of hours over the next upcoming months;
• The immediate introduction of the “banking of hours” rule, similar to that applied within the hospitality industry which will give our sector the necessary flexibility in managing the post COVID-19 period;
• Direct assistance in the payment of payroll for the months of April and May 2020 (this assistance may need to be further extended in case that the present situation prolongs further);
• Quarantine leave should be burdened by the Government;
• A waiver of utility (water and electricity) rental fees for a three-month period;
• An intervention with our local banks in order to seriously lobby so as to cap the interest charged on credit support resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic at 1% or, alternatively, the Government subsidising the difference in the interest rate charged by the Banks;
• A direct cash subsidy in the payment of rent or, alternatively, incentives to landlords who agree to waive rent for this period and reduce it for the following four months.

The signatories are:

  • Kevin Grech – Hudson Holdings Ltd
  • Mario Camilleri – Big Bon Group
  • Simon Gatt Baldacchino – United Department Stores Ltd
  • Joseph Borg – Trilogy Ltd
  • Kenneth Mizzi – SAK Ltd
  • Simon Mizzi – Rubicon Ltd
  • Andrew Calascione – Supermarkets (1960) Ltd
  • Marlene Seychell – CKK Holdings
  • Nicky Camilleri – Arkadia Marketing Ltd
  • Emma Miller – Miller Group
  • Tonio Camilleri – Camilleri Group
  • Roberta Caruana Stivala – Thumbelina Ltd
  • Christine Pace – Dorkins Ltd
  • Lauro Abela – Franks Stores Co Ltd
  • Diane Izzo – Dizz Group
  • Jerome Grech – Superbrands Ltd
  • Romina Fenech – Sterling Group Ltd
  • Peter Borg – Bortex Group
  • Charles Mifsud – United Fashion Ltd

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