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B.C. hotel workers start hunger strike to create awareness around industry layoffs

Third floor view of the Shangri-La Hotel signage facing University Avenue in Toronto, March 27 2014.
Third floor view of the Shangri-La Hotel signage facing University Avenue in Toronto, March 27 2014. Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Hotel workers in B.C. are calling on the provincial government to put in place protections to keep their jobs in place once the economy rebounds.

Ten workers are starting a hunger strike on Monday to draw attention to the 50,000 laid-off hotel workers in the province.

The hunger strike is being organized by Unitehere! Local 40 union. There are concerns from the union that hotels are hiring back cheaper, younger workers in replace of the more expensive, more experienced workers.

Read more: Hospitality workers rally in Vancouver over concerns they will lose their jobs

The union is calling on the government to give workers the legal right to return to work once the economy recovers and hotels start getting closer to operating at capacity.

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“It is about a guarantee that people will have jobs to go back to whenever the border opens up, whenever the restrictions are lifted and the economy recovers that these jobs are there waiting for the people who have worked them for years and decades,” Local 40 president Zailda Chan said.

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The province is still grappling with how to deal with the struggling tourism economy.

The tourism sector has put forward a $680 million bailout package that consists of three parts.

The first part is nearly $475 million to help sustain and maintain solvency for businesses that have prospects to return to profitability over the next 18 months. The industry suggests this could include the provision of low or no-interest loans with an extended payback period.

In the second part, the group is also asking for $190 million to help businesses adapt to coronavirus-related health and safety requirements.

Click to play video 'Believe BC: Vancouver hotels reopen to new reality' Believe BC: Vancouver hotels reopen to new reality
Believe BC: Vancouver hotels reopen to new reality

In the third part, the proposal also recommends a joint industry-government task force to work alongside existing industry organizations and networks to finalize funding parameters, application processes, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

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Hotel workers are asking to be supported by the plan.

“We have been meeting with the employers, we have been meeting with government and they both refuse to make a commitment that nobody will be losing their jobs,” Chan said.

“We are calling on government for the legal right for people to go back to their jobs. The fear is the jobs will be replaced by lower wages and with far [fewer] benefits starting out. It is really turning back the clock on those jobs.”

The province has hired labour lawyer Sandra Bannister to assess the situation and her advice will dictate in part what the government will do next.

Labour Minister Harry Bains says there are collective agreements in place for many of the workers but he understands both the employer and employees could not anticipate a pandemic when the collective agreement was created.

“Their rights are dictated by the collective agreement. They are not easy to deal with,” Bains said.

“It is a very serious situation. I fully understand the challenges of the workers. We also understand the financial challenges of the hotel industry. The pandemic has hit the hotel industry harder than any other industry.”