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Ontario COVID-19 measures see layoffs in hospitality, travel industries

Ontario business closures force thousands of layoffs amid COVID-19 outbreak
WATCH: In the last week, the government has received nearly half-a-million EI applications. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of thousands of businesses resulting in mass layoffs. Albert Delitala reports.

Efforts to contain COVID-19 in Ontario and across the country have meant layoff notices for thousands of employees in the hospitality and travel industries.

The Pilot restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood closed on Monday, just hours before the Ontario government ordered all dine-in bars and restaurants closed to combat the spread of the virus.

“I never thought things were going to change as quick as they did,” said Hernan Bancalari, who has worked at the restaurant for most of the past 17 years, currently as a bartender.

He said losing most of his income will be a challenge, but it isn’t his main worry.

“My main concern right now to be honest with you is most in terms of health — the health of myself, my community, my family,” he said.

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Bancalari and his co-workers aren’t alone. Hundreds of thousands of people work in Ontario’s hospitality industry, many of whom are now — or will soon be — without a job.

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The province’s food services sector employs an estimated 443,000 people, according to the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA), with the hotel industry employing about 90,000.

In recent days, business at hotels has plummeted to about 10 per cent occupancy nationwide, Hotel Association of Canada president and CEO Susie Grynol told Global News.

“What that means is that hotels have had to close their doors. We’ve had a hundred hotel closures in the last two days,” she said. “There will be more planned today.”

Airline jobs have been hit hard, too. The Air Canada component of CUPE confirmed to Global News the company planned to lay off more than 5,000 staff.

“The first reaction is sad,” said Prof. Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“It’s really unfortunate to see so many people being laid off.”

The move was not unexpected, he said, as Air Canada tries to conserve cash. He said while the jobs are likely to come back, they will only gradually over time.

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“You know, I don’t see anyone coming back from this situation and saying, ‘Hey, everybody come back.’ It’s going to take time,” he said.

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Meantime, Bencalari said he planned to wait out the drop in work and stay healthy as he pictured it would be like returning to work.

“Imagine, in the middle of the summer, we open that patio,” he said.

“Everyone is going to want to hang out, everyone is going to want to have a beer with friends and family, so I think it’s going to be a celebration.”