Stewart elated over Tourism Workers' Pension Scheme

Stewart elated over Tourism Workers' Pension Scheme

'No employee should have to scrounge around for a living after retirement,' says hotel mogul

BY DESMOND ALLEN
Executive editor – special assignment
allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 14, 2020

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No one is happier than Gordon “Butch” Stewart to hear news that registration for the long-awaited Tourism Workers' Pension Scheme is now on the immediate horizon.

The Appliance Traders Ltd/Sandals Group chairman and founder has been one of the biggest supporters and cheerleaders of the scheme from the time it was first proposed several years ago.

He applauded the recent announcement By Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett that registration is to begin any time now, involving an initial 350,000 tourism workers, and rising to a potential 500,000 workers by 2030/2035.

Although his own Sandals hotel employees are covered under the ATL Pension Scheme, Stewart had agonised over the fact that near 80 per cent of tourism workers had not been covered under any pension scheme, sending them into uncertain retirement.

“I am very pleased that the scheme became a reality on January 31, 2020 and I congratulate all the players who worked hard to see this through. It will be another game-changer in the tourism sector for a group of most deserving workers,” said Stewart.

“This will constitute the best thing to have been done for the workers who have given their best years to an industry which has kept Jamaica afloat in the toughest of economic times, as the country's single largest foreign exchange earner,” argued Stewart, who is also chairman of the Jamaica Observer.

Despite his plethora of trophies and accolades over 52 years of entrepreneurial and philanthropic achievements, Stewart has never hesitated to declare that the thing he is proudest of is the Appliance Traders Limited Pension Scheme.

Over the past five years, the ATL pension fund has trebled in size to $30.5 billion, the bulk of that increase attributable to investment returns. On a compounded basis, over the same period, net return after expenses was 22 per cent per year.

Executive chairman of the ATL Pension Fund and chairman of the fund's Investment Committee Keith Collister said the net return was way above inflation over the period, with 2019 recording its best investment performance a net return of over 30 per cent.

“We have also made a conscious decision to keep our costs well below those of the industry, for the benefit of our over 4,500 members,” said Collister. “Since 2014, our returns have been driven by our decision to diversify out of government debt, through investments in many leading stock exchange listed companies.

“We have also done both direct and indirect investments in real estate, private equity and corporate debt. The indirect investments have been through investment funds of various types, where we have often been a catalytic investor,” he disclosed.

The ATL Group rose from a tiny office near Cross Roads, Kingston, to spawn several iconic brands — Sandals Resorts International, the Jamaica Observer and ATL Automotive among them together constituting one of the biggest employers of labour.

Stewart said he had always had a very personal commitment to the pension scheme, adding: “It's one of my most proud and personal achievements, because it is for the benefit of the thousands of people who have participated in the creation, growth and development of this hugely successful business.”

The 37-year-old pension scheme might have been stillborn but for the stubbornness of Stewart, who was determined to have his way. First, he tried to get a scheme going in 1976, but the company, not yet the conglomerate of today, lacked the administrative capacity to sustain a stable fund.

When he tried again seven years later, in 1983, the naysayers told him it was bigger than him and he should just get an insurance company to handle that for him. They forgot they were dealing with Gordon “Butch” Stewart.

“I'm glad I never listened to those people who were telling me that we could not sustain a proper pension scheme. My firm conviction from then was that no one who works for the company and retires should have to scrounge around for a living,” he said.

Stewart kept a keen eye on the progress of the fund, watching it grow to become the largest private pension scheme in Jamaica, “now not only providing for the security of the future, but affording a pension for all employees of the ATL Group”.

Every three years, the fund's surplus is divided among the members to ensure growing value. It has also become a major contributor to financing business in Jamaica, as its banking side grows increasingly potent.

After seeing off the pension fund to a great start, Stewart also launched a health scheme for employees in what he regarded as a companion plan to ensure his staff could afford health care.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the ATL Pension Scheme and Health Fund remain strong and continue to provide increasing benefits to our valued staff and retirees. That is my unwavering commitment,” Stewart pledged.


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