Gyms to Croatian Government: Pay Workers, Write Off Contributions!

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ana Blaskovic writes on the 28th of August, 2020, due to the rapid growth in the number of people suffering from coronavirus in the south of Croatia, which Croatia agreed to allow to a certain extent in order to save the tourist season, fitness centres and gyms are among those who will be the first to pay the price thanks to a sweeping decision from the Croatian Government.

At the suggestion of the Split-Dalmatia County Headquarters (SDŽ), local measures were tightened and a wider obligation to wear masks was introduced, but only fitness centres had to put their keys in their locks.

The Minister of Health, Vili Beros, added fuel to the fire by noting that these are new hotspots of infection. The Croatian Government’s decision infuriated gym owners as well as the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (Udruga Glas Poduzetnika) which asked the minister for transparent evidence for this draconian measure accusing the staff of such facilities of negligence and of shifting responsibility.

“The Minister and the National Civil Protection Headquarters must not punish business owners who constantly invest in their facilities in order to makes them as safe as possible and adhere to all epidemiological measures. These are decisions which lump everyone into one category and which cause even more damage,” point out the UGP, the only association of entrepreneurs that has spoken out on this issue.

“We’d like to point out that fitness centres, gyms, sports halls and clubs were all closed at a time when they generate the most revenue to cover themselves during the summer. Their re-closure will shake the economy and shake families without income,” they note.

”It’s a political decision”

“We know for sure that there were cases in the Joker centre in Split of someone getting infected, but we need to define the direction in which to take these further measures, and not punish the entire industry just because of one case where someone didn’t follow the measures. How can you be sure that person didn’t contract coronavirus at the post office or when they were on the bus? There were cases when someone in the tax administration became infected, so what are we going to do now, close down the entire tax administration?” asks Drazen Orescanin from the aforementioned association.

“The decision to close is political because the SDŽ headquarters didn’t do its job properly, so now they’re shifting the responsibility for those omissions to others. That is just shameless,” he concluded.

Many see the idea of the introduction of those measures in gyms across the rest of the country putting the 1.2 billion kuna revenue generated annually by the fitness industry in grave danger. Orlando Lopac, the owner of the OrlandoFit Croatia chain, said on Facebook that the minister had a direct impact on the long-term revenues of the entire fitness and sports recreation industry owing to these utterly odd decision.

The owner of the FitnessOF gym chain, Vanja Radjenovic, gives a slightly different perspective. “Right now we aren’t locking our doors like we were during the lockdown, but we are being stigmatised. People are afraid and won’t come, and the costs of that are on us all the time. If they fully told us to close, at least we could ask for help from the state,” he says, illustrating that the turnover this year dropped to 30 percent when compared to last year, meaning down to a mere 50 percent of what is typically achieved in the summer in ”normal” years.

The request of the UGP Sports Committee, which, on behalf of all SDŽ fitness centres and gyms, asked the Ministry of Finance to pay the salaries of gym and fitness facility employees and write off their contributions for a period of fourteen days, is on a similar train of thought.

“If you want to close us down or limit our business, gentlemen in the Croatian Government, then you have to pay for it, not only with measures to preserve jobs, but also with additional measures – to preserve companies that close or restrict business in the name of force majeure. Without companies, there are no employees,” said UGP leader Hrvoje Bujas.

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