British Columbia

Laid-off hospitality workers hold car caravan in downtown Vancouver calling for job security

Hundreds of hospitality workers took over Burrard Street in Vancouver near the Hyatt Regency Hotel Wednesday to press their employers and governments for job security following mass layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union estimates 90 per cent of workforce was laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic

Naden Abenes, a former Hyatt Regency room attendant, at a protest in Vancouver Wednesday that called on provincial and federal leaders to ensure workers are hired back to their old jobs as the economy reopens. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Hundreds of hospitality workers took over Burrard Street near the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver Wednesday to press the government and their employers for better job security following mass layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zailda Chan, Unite Here Local 40 president, said the demonstrations were "a powerful message to our employers and our government that tourism workers are not disposable."

Currently, most of the workers in B.C.'s hospitality industry were laid off in mid-March after the pandemic shuttered the tourism industry. 

Unite Here Local 40 said in the span of two weeks, 90 per cent of their members — who number 60,000 in total — lost their jobs.

While many of the workers were able to get employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), their recall rights — the right of a laid-off employee to be called back to work by their employer — could soon expire.  

Hospitality workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 40, hold a car caravan protest on Burrard Street in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Naden Abenes, who has worked as a room attendant at the Hyatt Regency for 12 years, says she's anxious about what could happen when the CERB she's relying on ends.

"I only have enough for myself and my rent [and] I'm living alone.So it's very challenging for me, and I'm struggling," Abenes said.

Chan says employers could replace workers with cheaper labour instead of giving them their previous positions. 

"By mid-September, many of our members can be replaced, and non-union workers can be replaced tomorrow," Chan said. 

Workers are asking governments to help them go back to their old jobs, rather than allow hotels to hire new, cheaper employees. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

It's especially painful given the long labour action the union took in 2019, which resulted in raises of up to 25 per cent, and new standards for workplace safety, sexual harassment and job security.

Chan says they're asking for a 24-month guarantee of job security from their employers. 

"We know that the tourism industry will take years to recover and what we're asking for is a 24-month guarantee that people will have their jobs. That will give hospitality workers enough time to go back to work," she said. 

Zailda Chan, president of United Here Local 40, says the union is asking for a 24-month guarantee of job security from their employers. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Premier John Horgan addressed their concerns at a press conference Wednesday, but said his focus is on making sure businesses get up and running first. 

"We're calling on employers to do the right thing and make sure they're keeping their workforce intact to the greatest extent possible, we expect that to happen, if we need to take steps using the legislature to protect workers, we'll do that. But our concern now is how do we get businesses up and running," Horgan said. 

With files from The Early Edition, Jon Hernandez

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