Coronavirus: 10,000 hospitality workers expected to be laid off in Saskatchewan

Click to play video: '10,000 Saskatchewan hospitality workers facing layoffs amid COVID-19'
10,000 Saskatchewan hospitality workers facing layoffs amid COVID-19
WATCH: Thousands of hospitality workers in Saskatchewan could soon be out of work as hotels and restaurants shut its doors – Mar 18, 2020

Around 10,000 hospitality workers in Saskatchewan could soon be out of work as restaurants shut their doors and hotels become ghost towns amid concerns around COVID-19.

The province declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan declares state of emergency'
Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan declares state of emergency

“Our industry is evaporating before our eyes and it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen,” said Jim Bence, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA).

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He said at least 10,000 hospitality workers in the province will likely be laid off, and that number could be even higher.

There are around 63,000 hospitality workers in the province, Bence said. They include hotel workers, servers and bartenders, and staff at big event centres.

Public health officials are asking people to stay home if possible. As of Wednesday, seating at restaurants, bars and event centres in Saskatchewan has been limited to 50 per cent capacity, or 50 people, whichever is less, according to the provincial government.

Hotels are almost empty because of the uncertainty around travel. They were expected to be full with visitors coming to the 2020 Juno Awards in Saskatoon, but the awards were cancelled days before over concerns of spreading COVID-19.

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In Regina and Saskatoon, hotels are laying off 40 to 45 per cent of their staff, Bence said.

One big hotel — which he would not name — has laid off close to 80 per cent of its staff.

Meanwhile, many restaurants have closed in the province, and some face a backlash if they choose to stay open.

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“It’s really becoming a really hard place, a really hard sport for any operator that is open for the public to come in. There’s a real crisis going on whether you stay open or you don’t,” Bence said.

On the other side of the spectrum, some employees in limbo can’t even apply for employment insurance (EI). Many work in low-earning positions such as in restaurants and bars, and live paycheque-to-paycheque, according to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.

“They’re not getting any scheduled hours, but they’re not getting a layoff notice as well, so they don’t have the ability to apply for EI,” said Lori Johb, the federation’s president.

“I would hope employers would at least be able to [give layoff notices so] the paperwork is actually filed so workers can actually apply for EI benefits.”
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With news changing every day, Johb said some employers are uncertain about what will happen next. She said it’s important to keep communication between employers and staff open.

“As soon as they know that they have to make a decision about layoffs, they need to do that, they need to share that with the workers,” she said.

The federal government unveiled an $82-billion emergency response package to help Canadian families and businesses with income supports and tax deferrals.

“We need, when this is over, for us to have a great employee base that can come back to work,” Bence said. “We also need those businesses that are out there to survive so we have jobs for them to return to.”

Bence said his organization is working with the federal and provincial governments to find ways to help the province’s hospitality industry.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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