Hospitality workers call for financial support in face of mass layoffs
VANCOUVER -- Thousands of hotel workers across B.C. have been laid off in the weeks since the provincial and federal governments have tightened restrictions on travel and daily life in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the first of April approaches many of the people who normally carry luggage, check people in and clean rooms are now wondering how they will pay their rent.
"Hospitality workers are really feeling a blunt financial trauma that is very abrupt," said Zaida Chan, president of Unite Here Local 40, a union representing 6,000 hospitality workers in B.C.
"They are living paycheque to paycheque. There really isn't a lot of room. There's not a year's worth of savings for people to really cushion this financial blow."
The federal government has promised a 75 per cent wage subsidy for businesses, but Chan believes hotels that remain open will continue to operate with minimal staff due to occupancy rates in the single digits.
"So this brings it back to the best intervention that the Canadian government can do at this point is to put more money in people's pockets directly," she said as she called on the feds to provide 80 per cent wage relief directly to laid off employees.
She says EI benefits which cover 55 per cent of a worker's wage, and the new Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit, which pays $2,000 per month, will not be adequate because of the high cost of living in Vancouver and many other parts of B.C.
- Coronavirus resources: A list of emergency aid available in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada
"These two supplements are really below B.C. minimum wage. So, we're asking for an 80 per cent wage replacement now, that there be no waiting period, and that people have checks on hand now," said Chan.
She says that is the best way to ensure people are able to pay their rents and feed themselves during this crisis.
While the provincial moratorium on evictions can ease people's minds in the short term, she says it is not a long-term solution.
"We have many members who are concerned that the moment this crisis is over they will be evicted," said Chan. "This is not a break on rent. It's a bill that will keep running until they're supposed to pay it back."
She also says members in her union are ready to return to work immediately to help with the crisis if the province decides it needs unused hotel rooms to isolate people under quarantine or to house health-care workers.