Despite having a €4.6 billion profit in 2019, the Dutch-owned travel agency Booking.com received €65 million as part of the NOW scheme to help businesses survive during the pandemic.
The €65 million state aid came with almost no conditions. Now, the Dutch parliament regrets its hasty help.
€28 million in bonuses
Last week, Booking.com revealed its intention to pay €28 million in shares and cash bonuses to its three top executives — after having fired thousands of regular employees 🤨. This came to light in Booking.com’s “Notice of Annual Stockholders’ Meeting” which addressed the issues discussed at today’s stockholders’ meeting.
In total, Booking.com has received €100 million in aid during the coronavirus pandemic from the U.S. (where the holding company is located) and the Netherlands. The €65 million from the NOW scheme was meant to help compensate staff wages but instead, Booking.com tweaked their remuneration rules for executives (excuse us?!).
According to the NRC, Booking.com explains that the executives’ paychecks are largely dependent on the company’s financial performance. So when profits took a hit in 2020 their incomes also dropped.
Booking.com sees the new remuneration rules as necessary to avoid losing valuable talent. They worry that, without bonuses, executives will leave Booking.com for tech companies not affected by the coronavirus crisis, reports the NRC.
The decision to award bonuses to top executives while the world is struggling with a global pandemic has sparked anger in the Dutch parliament and among the Dutch.
A debate in the parliament yesterday had politicians swearing over the misuse of state aid, reports NU.nl. The outgoing Minister for Social Affairs, Wouter Koolmees “cursed a bit” when reading about the bonuses but emphasises that, legally, there’s nothing to about it.
However, the more leftist parties in the government are outraged and argue that something should be done about the abuse of state resources.
Bart van Kent from the SP (Socialist Party) wants Booking.com to be banned from future government programs and has been advocating for Booking.com to repay the money.
Thierry Aartsen from the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) called the Booking.com executives “vultures,” while Gijs van Dijk from PvdA (Labour Party) described the new remuneration rules as “immoral”.
Gert-Jan Segers from CU (Christian Union) also took to Twitter after the rules were revealed last week. He calls Booking.com’s actions “shameless” and quotes the Timothy verse “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Should the money be paid back?
Since there were no conditions attached to the €65 million at the time, the Dutch government can’t do much about the misuse. New conditions that forbid using government aid to pay bonuses have later been added to the NOW scheme but Koolmees says the government should not enact rules retroactively, reports NL Times.
It’s clear from the parliamentary debate yesterday that almost all parties believe least some of the €65 million should be paid back. Meanwhile, Koolmees has promised to discuss the handling of state aid with Booking.com.
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