“ Address: Northside House, Tweedy Road, Bromley, Kent, BR1 3WA / Tel: 0844 875 6030 / Information: For over 40 years African Safari Club, has specialised in arranging holidays to Kenya and today proudly boast an excellent reputation as international market leaders. „
~~Why African Safari Club?~~
I have just been on a two week holiday to Kenya, we booked with African Safari Club who have been arranging Safaris, Nile Cruises, Egyptian Holidays and beach holidays for over 40 years. The information on their website looked ideal to us and the price they offered was very competetive.
We booked by phone with no hassle, we got a very cheap holiday and everything went according to plan. Our payment and booking were confirmed immediately, flight information was accurate. Our hotel was wonderful, a bit down at heel in places but still very pleasant. In fact I have never had such a great holiday before. However, it might suprise you to hear that I doubt if I will be booking with ASC again. I'll try to explain why.
~~How do they keep smiling?~~
The staff at the Dolphin Hotel were extraordinary. They really went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. Some of this I knew was because they wanted to be tipped, but it felt to me that most of it was because they were good, hardworking and genuinely friendly people. Tipping was expected and it was no hardship when you were paying so little for stuff anyway. What I didn't realise and was horrified to find out, was that for the staff here and in the two sister hotels, tipping wasn't an extra. Tips were all that they were getting. Nothing else! ASC had not paid most of them for months. This was not a one off anomaly. The problem has been going on for years. Some months they would be paid some of what they were owed some months they would not. One villager from nearby Shanzu village told me that his contract had been terminated 10 months previously and he was still owed 17 months pay. Out of a total of 40 months he had been paid for 30 and he had been lucky to get as much as that.! The staff are rarely on full time contracts now and they believe (and so do I) that this method of hiring staff and letting them go for a few weeks then hiring them again, means that it is harder for the workers to do anything about the appalling treatment they are receiving.
~~So why work if you're not going to get paid?~~
One day towards the end of our holiday I was sat with a group of villagers from Shanzu. Shanzu has relied heavily in the past for employment from ASC. In it's heyday they had five hotels open in the immediate area. When the government of Kenya changed three years ago many of the hotels were shut. I asked the men why they continued to work for ASC. The explanations were simple and very saddening. This is what I was told.
There was virtually no other employment.
There is no unemployment benefit in Kenya.
It is better to work and hope to get paid.
If you are working you will be respected in the community.
If you are working you can be proud of yourself.
If you work you will get tips and so there is some money coming into the household.
If other hotels reopen they will already be trained and more likely to be offered jobs in them.
~~All power tends to corrupt....~~
Basically ASC or their agents, have these people by the short and curlies! They can treat them exactly as they wish and nothing is done about it. I was told on the day we left that the government is aware of the problem and the following Tuesday a question was going to be raised in the Kenyan parliament. I asked the man who told me this if he thought that would do any good. "It depends Mama, it depends!" He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together in the universal language that signifys money changing hands. I asked if the government officials were being bribed. He rolled his eyes and said the Swahili equivalent of "Does a bear sh*t in the woods?"
He did say that the people were a little more trustful of this government, they seemed more honest than previous ones and in fact some of the previous politicians had been sent to the Hague for trial for corruption. "But not enough Mama, not enough of them go."
As I asked around it became more and more evident that the staff were under threat of the sack if they mentioned any of this or talked about it if asked. One of the staff said to me "Do not ask me Mama Gill, I am Christian man and I may not lie, if I speak you the truth I will have no job." Some were more forthcoming and confirmed that they were not paid. "I have had no wages for seven months, my father feeds me and I give him not enough. I cannot get married because of this." Another said he was owed nine weeks wages. I asked how long he had worked there. "Ten weeks in four months." was the reply. I was also told that the staff had agreed to a reduction in their wages due to the economic downturn.
When I got home and had caught up on things a little I rang ASC, in the course of the conversation I asked the girl I was talking to whether her wages were any good (on the pretext that my daughter was thinking of working in travel). She said they were "Not bad for this kind of a job." I said "I hope you don't mind me asking but do you get paid monthly or weekly?" She said she was paid monthly. I really wanted to ask outright if the staff in England had any trouble getting their wages. From the way our conversation went it was obvious that she was happy with the way she was paid and had no problems around wages. I just wanted to confirm my suspicions that only ASC staff in Kenya had problems getting paid. Now I know a sample of one is pretty meaningless but I assume that if there had been a problem with wages going missing for years in the UK we would have heard something about it. I have to say that every member of UK staff I have spoken to have been professional, helpful and very pleasant.
~~A Swiss or a Swizz?~~
I was told by a very well educated young man (A rep from another company) that the owner of ASC is Swiss, that is where he is domiciled and the name of one of the three directors* certainly leads me to believe that this is true. None of the directors are Kenyan. So what we seem to have is a Swiss businessman, who wouldn't have a hope in Hell of acting in this way in his own country or any other part of Europe, playing fast and loose with the lives of hundreds of his African employees.
I went onto their website (address below) to see if they had anything to say about the situation. Interestingly their PR page reads like this........
"This section is currently being updated with copies of our latest press releases and other news media. If you have a PR enquiry please use the form below. "
(I used their form and nothing happened. Big suprise there!)
It has been this way for a while now, you might draw your own conclusions. You can also draw your own conclusions from the fact that I also eMailed them twelve days ago, politely asking some questions, and I heard nothing back until this review was read by them on Ciao. If you Google 'ASC wages issues' you will be led to a website devoted to discussions of past ASC behaviour. It doesn't make pretty reading.
This is their website if you want to read about their charitable works and their company history. The stuff about their charitable works is very interesting. I'd be interested to hear what you think.
Another quote from their website
"Nothing is left to others, or indeed to chance, as all aspects of our cruises and holidays are managed and personally controlled by our own well trained and highly motivated staff."
(Incidentally, we didn't see an ASC rep all the time we were in the hotel!)
It's a shame that those "well trained and highly motivated staff" can't see their way clear to paying the "well trained and highly motivated staff" in Kenya whose lives and livelihoods are definitely being "left to chance"
I asked what I could do to help. The general consensus from the staff and the reps was to " tell your people about what is happening to us!" So that is what I am trying to do here. Thank you so much for reading.
Last week I was contacted by an employee of ASC. She was pleasant and professional. She told me of her dismay that stories of their workers in Kenya were still being told. She assured me that it was her belief that the workers were being paid albeit on a negotiated reduced rate because of the economic climate in Kenya.
I believe that she believed what she was saying. I told her that I would add her comments to my review. She did say that the workers in Kenya were paid by agents and not directly by ASC. This made me wonder if they were not being told the truth about what was going on.
I still believe that the men who told me that they were not being paid were telling me the truth. Most of them (but not all) had nothing to gain by lying or exaggerating. The most compelling stories and evidence was given me by the a university educated employee who was able to be supported by his family whilst he waited for his wages. He refused a tip because he did not want me to think I was being told all of this for sympathy. I brought the subject up, he didn't. I believed him, I still do. Many people told me the same or similar stories. Something is going badly wrong there and I would love to hear from the people I am still in touch with that all their wages have been paid.
*Source: Company House London