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'April 1st is looming': Mass layoffs, uncertain future for B.C.'s hospitality workers

Last Updated Mar 28, 2020 at 12:01 pm PST

FILE -- The Rosewood Hotel Georgia. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/https://bit.ly/2Xg5cTJ)

At least 90 per cent of the province's unionized hotel and hospitality workers have been laid off

Unite Here Local 40 is asking employers to provide 80 per cent wage replacement, continue health benefits

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The ongoing battle against COVID-19 has brought the air travel and tourism industries to a virtual standstill.

At least 90 per cent of the province’s unionized hotel and hospitality workers have been laid off, according to Robert Demand, director and former president of Unite Here Local 40.

“Occupancy is very, very low in the hotels,” he said. “This is having a devastating impact on the economy in general but specifically in the hospitality industry.”

Demand says employers and workers are scrambling to figure out how to access various government supports and subsidies.

“April 1st is looming and we have people that need to know they can pay their bills and take care of their families,” he said, adding he thinks the steps governments have announced don’t go far enough.

The union is asking for employers to take action and replace lost wages immediately.

“We need to see wage replacement on the measure of 80 per cent of wages being compensated during this time so working families can keep themselves afloat for now and in the months ahead,” he said adding workers also need to be assured they will retain health benefits.

Meantime, the well-being of workers who remain on the job remains paramount.

“There are real concerns about people’s health and safety during this pandemic and we’re trying to work as closely as we can with employers to improve safety measures in hotels. But this is all moving very, very quickly and that’s why I think we’ve seen so many hotels now start to take the drastic step of temporary closures to make sure that their entire staffs are completely safe.”

He sais while the union supports plans for government to requisition hotels to provide shelter for people who need it, or as centres where people can be isolated.

However, he doesn’t want current employees to be ordered back to work. Instead, they should be allowed to volunteer.

“I think all of us want to do our civic duty during this time,” he said.

Strict standards and protocols to ensure worker safety would have to be developed in close consultation with health authorities in order for the union to be comfortable sending staff into repurposed hotels.