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B.C. hotel workers hold hunger strike in Victoria for job security amid COVID-19

Last Updated Aug 10, 2020 at 12:31 pm PST

FILE - B.C. hotel workers are holding a hunger strike in Victoria, calling on the province to support people in the industry who have been laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Twitter/Unite Here Local 40)

Hotel workers are holding a hunger strike on the steps of the B.C. Legislature to fight for their rights

Union workers want B.C. government to ensure they'll get their jobs back when temporary layoff period ends on Aug. 31

Unite Here Local 40 says about 50,000 hotel staff have been laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Laid off hotel workers are going on a hunger strike outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria to ensure their right to get their jobs back after they were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their goal is to make sure that any bailout or support for the tourism industry includes protecting workers’ jobs.

At the end August, Stephanie Fung with UNITE HERE Local 40 says about 50,000 hotel staff will see their temporary lay offs run out and they could face severance along with loss of seniority.

“Employers are trying to cut costs, they’re trying to get rid of longterm workers, and we feel like it’s affecting all workers. All workers are in the same boat, union or non-union,” she tells NEWS 1130. “So, we want all workers who were laid off during COVID-19 to be able to return to their jobs.”

Of the tens of thousands of workers laid off, Fung says only 10 to 15 per cent of them have been brought back to work. She and others worry hotels will chop jobs permanently when the temporary layoff period ends on Aug. 31.

“They’re trying to use this pandemic as an excuse to replace workers with lower wages. They’re refusing to call back their longterm workers. It’s a sneaky way to just try and get rid of the longterm workers and get rid of those who have been there for so long, who’ve contributed,” Fung explains.

Naden Abenef is among the people taking part in the hunger strike to fight for her rights. She says workers have decided to take the drastic step to highlight how dire their situation is.

“We don’t have a job to go back to right now, it’s the unknown. [We want to] make sure we get our jobs back,” she tells NEWS 1130.

Abenef notes that for many, their jobs are lifelong commitments. Abenef’s 12 years at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver is considered a relatively short time for those who have made the hotel business their careers.

Fung notes the workers aren’t looking for financial support as part of the $680 million the B.C. hotel industry has asked for, though she says that would be great.

“We need to act now, we need to push the government to guarantee our legal right,” she says. “Any financial relief, any support that goes out to these industries, they need to make sure that they’re not just throwing money away to the corporations, that actually the workers who actually do these jobs benefit from all this.”

Fung adds the key is for employers to be mandated to give all employees the chance to get their jobs back when the jobs come back.

Last week, Victoria announced it is conducting a review of layoff and recall rights of workers in the hotel sector.