More than 50,000 hospitality workers in British Columbia lose jobs due to COVID-19 outbreak

VANCOUVER — Nadine Abenas has been working at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Vancouver for 12 years now.

But because of the coronavirus crisis, she suddenly found herself without a job.

“The majority of us got laid off last two weeks ago, which is, our last shift was March 15. After that they just closed Hyatt down.”

“They were laid off very quickly at a very fast rate. It’s been a shock to the system for a lot of people.”

Abenas has applied for Employment Insurance, Canada’s temporary income support for unemployed workers, but she still does not know when she will receive it.

Because more than a million people have already applied, it may take longer than the usual 28 days to receive the first “EI” payment.

Abenas said though that EI amounts to only 55% of what a laid-off employee used to earn, and it won’t be enough to sustain a family in the months ahead.

“55% is not enough so, and i’m trying to tell them like we’re working with government, asking 80% because that would help us a little bit. It’s better than 55% because 55% would be below poverty.”

Their union is now asking government to give them immediate income replacement that is equivalent to 80% of their wages.

Unite Here Local 40 President Zailda Chan said that even before the crisis, hotel workers, many of whom are immigrants, people of color, or single parents were already living paycheck to paycheck.

“Even before the crisis, hospitality workers were already struggling with the cost of living as it is and now, it’s, they’re on the brink of financial collapse, so part of that, our first demand is 80% wage replacement and that will be immediate. People need money in their pockets NOW, not mid-April or the end of April.”

The union is also asking government to continue the extended health benefits of the laid-off workers.

Abenas hopes government will listen as this will benefit not only hotel workers but all other wage earners.

As rents and mortgage payments are due this week, the province has ordered a stop to evictions and rent payments.

BC premier James Horgan assured that more help is on the way.

“If you’ve been affected by COVID-19 and are struggling to make ends meet, BC is offering you help. We’re freezing rents, halting evictions, and have broadened a new monthly benefit to give you up to $500 to help you pay your rent. We created a new BC Emergency Benefit which will give up to a thousand dollars in direct financial support if you’ve lost your income. Our support programs are designed to enhance those already announced by the Prime Minister.”

Because of the crisis, the Hotel Association of Canada estimated that 80 to 90% of hotels in Canada will close this year, which will affect up to 250,000 hotel workers.

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