Dubai: Bakery outlets of a popular restaurant chain have been shut following a dispute between the management and employees over non-payment of salaries, Gulf News has learnt.
Golden Fork bakeries in Al Aweer, Dubai and Musaffah in Abu Dhabi, are the latest among the food outlets belonging to a 30-year-old group in the same name to down their shutters, employees said.
K.V. Nandakumar, the manager, and Thadathil Salim, the PRO of the group, confirmed to Gulf News that at least five of the 23 restaurants run by the group had also been closed over a period of time while the group had also sold a hotel it owned in Dubai.
According to them, there has been no news about the owner of the group, K.K. Sidharthan, hailing from the South Indian state of Kerala, for over six months now.
Currently, the group is facing about 80 cases, majority of them about bounced cheques and labour complaints, they said.
“We are trying our best to sort out all these issues. It is sad that the bakery which had been number three in the UAE for a long time had to close down,” Nandakumar told Gulf News.
He said the company used to have a Dh184-million annual turnover till a couple of years back.
“The business was affected because of some bad investments and cheating he [the owner] had suffered. The bakery was closed because the workers refused to work before their salary issues and visa issues were resolved,” said Salim.
Of the over 1,000-strong employees of the group, they said almost half have gone back home. Only about 60 of 350 employees of the bakery section remain.
Salim claimed that many left because they were over the retirement age and most of them had been paid their end-of-service benefits. “Some were also sent back due to visa and insurance issues.”
However, some of the remaining workers of the bakery claimed that many employees were sent back with promises to clear their pending salaries later.
Salaries had been delayed on earlier occasions too but, workers said, the company used to make sure to settle the payments when they would visit home in two or three years.
“But that stopped sometime back. Most of our visas have expired and in the last 20 months, our salaries of seven to 11 months have been pending,” said one of the workers.
They said the crisis deepened six months ago. In the first week of August, the workers in the Dubai bakery decided to stop work till their delayed salaries were paid and their visas and labour permits renewed, they said. According to them, the workers in the Abu Dhabi bakery had stopped functioning even before them, following which that outlet was closed first.
“There were talks of a new management coming in. They promised to pay our unpaid salaries after collecting pending cheques from the market. We wanted a guarantee that the salaries would be paid within six months. But they were not ready. Since we didn’t have an assurance about the payment, we stopped working,” a worker explained.
They said 35 of them had filed complaints with the labour court and the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
On Sunday, the workers were evicted from their accommodation in Muhaisnah by the building owner due to non-payment of rents. The company then shifted them to a smaller accommodation in Umm Al Quwain.
Salim added that the company continued to offer the services of a cook for preparing food for the workers.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai confirmed that 35 employees of Golden Fork Bakery and Golden Fork Restaurant had sought its help individually, and with the assistance of Ganesh Aramanganam from Indian People’s Forum in Sharjah.
“The consulate had taken up the case with the company. We are in constant touch with Nandakumar, manager, Golden Fork, and PRO Salim. Because of the huge amount of overstay penalties involved, they are trying for a reduction or waiver. The manager has promised that he will arrange the return of the workers to India at the earliest,” the consulate said in a statement issued to Gulf News.