PHUKET: Unions and workers in Phuket resorts are fearful that more investors may buy Phuket properties with a view to renovating the resorts and laying off staff to start all over again.
Many resorts that opened in the '90s on Phuket are likely to be being eyed with a view to remaking them for fresh starts in a new century.
Vijit Dasantad, President of the Phuket Federation of Hotels and Service Labor, said that the new owner at Laguna Beach Resort at Laguna Phuket has followed the law in making its 350 staff redundant and paying all financial entitlements.
''The resort management has now even said that the old staff may reapply for jobs at the resort, after the renovations,'' he said.
''But that is not the same as keeping workers on while a resort is renovated, which is what most other Phuket resorts have chosen to do in these circumstances.''
An increasing number of resorts on Phuket of the vintage of Laguna Beach Resort are falling due for renovation, so an increasing number of sales and refurbishments is expected over the next few years.
Staff at several large branded Phuket resorts have already found themselves unsettled by sales and uncertainty so far this year.
Ownership of a Phuket resort carried with it moral obligations and well as financial responsibilities, Khun Vijit said.
''The workers at Laguna Beach have in many cases been there for a long time, so the dependants in their families are also affected.
''It's sad to see a resort deciding to part company with its entire loyal trained staff.''
Khun Vijit said that many travellers were now looking at resorts to see whether they lived up to high moral standards as well as material ones.
''I had a call recently from a Swedish agency, asking me for the names of resorts on Phuket that protect the rights of their staff,'' he said.
''People these days are more anxious than ever before about the welfare of employees at the resorts where they stay.''
One of seven resorts in the Laguna Phuket lagoon sanctuary, Laguna Beach Resort was sold last year to Singapore-based Real Estate Equity Partners (Recap), an Asian-focused real estate equity fund.
The resort opened in 1992, the second hotel to be built at Laguna Phuket. Although other resorts at the Laguna complex have undergone extensive renovations, staff have usually been retained.
Recap managing director Suchad Chiaranussati has been quoted as saying that Recap specialises in seeking out distressed or poorly managed properties and reconditioning and operating these properties to achieve superior returns.
Recap is backed by a group of 15 institutional investors, most from the US. Around 75 percent of the total funds are from the US, 10 percent from Europe and 15 percent from Singapore-based investor City Developments Limited (CDL), he told the Bangkok Post in March.
Laguna Beach Resort is due to close on May 8 and reopen in December, after renovations.
Khun Vijit said there were about 3000 job vacancies in the resort business on Phuket at present. ''The 300 baht minimum wage really doesn't change anything in resorts,'' he said.
''People are unlikely to move to Phuket because the cost of living is so much higher than in other provinces. Phang Nga, for example, is a less pressured place to work and a bowl of noodles that costs 40 baht everywhere on Phuket still costs only 20 baht there.''
People also had trouble moving around on Phuket because there was no proper public transport, he said. ''Phuket has developed so rapidly that infrastructure has been left behind.
''Everybody loves Phuket. It would be great if they loved it in the right way, rather than the wrong way.''