'I feel like I can't do a thing:' Self-employed, freelance Winnipeggers hurting as jobs cancelled
COVID-19 pandemic cutting into income for hairstylist, videographer, playwright
Tracy Razella is used to brightening her clients' days as they sit in her salon chair. She misses that feeling, as the outbreak of coronavirus drives her customers away.
"You get your hair done, you just feel better about yourself, right?" the Winnipeg hairstylist said.
"I just feel like the helper, the fixer, the hair doctor," she said.
But now, "I feel like I can't do a thing."
Some self-employed Manitobans are facing the financial equivalent of a punch in the gut, with their incomes suddenly trimmed by measures to keep people away from each other, in order to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
"This is a huge hit for me — not only financially, but feeling like other than cleaning, cooking, baking and doing the few heads of hair that I am, I don't really feel like I'm contributing," Razella said.
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Her home-based salon in St. James usually buzzes with clients, eight hours a day, four days a week — but not anymore. While she's trying to stay open by heavily sanitizing her salon between every client, she's lately been seeing anywhere from zero to four people a day.
Since the pandemic began, she figures she's lost at least 60 per cent of her usual income.
The federal government wants to help. It is promising financial aid for people who face reduced hours from the pandemic, but it isn't clear how Ottawa would prop up the self-employed sector, or quantify how much income they've lost.
The financial aid may come out of a new $5-billion "emergency support benefit" for workers ineligible for employment insurance who face unemployment. Ottawa hasn't specified which types of workers would qualify once applications open in April.
Razella can rely on her husband's earnings, but they're already cutting back on expenses — they aren't ordering takeout anymore.
She's hopeful, but she isn't convinced the federal support will be enough.
Shaky faith in federal support
"It's one of those scenarios — do you completely trust your government, or do you not?" she said. "I would like to trust in the good faith of what they're trying to do for all of us."
Many Canadians are already going without work. A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute, released Wednesday, found 44 per cent of those polled say either they or someone in their household has lost hours due to COVID-19.
That online survey polled 1,664 Canadian adults from March 20 to 23, with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
One in three of the survey respondents said they worry their household may miss a rent or mortgage payment this month.
The Manitoba government hasn't announced measures to help self-employed workers so far.
Edgar Inductivo has a house to pay for and kids to feed. That becomes harder to do, with COVID-19 already cancelling or postponing six events his videography company, Good Vibes Productions, was waiting to capture.
He expects at least two more weddings to be postponed in the near future.
He says his family will get by, thanks to his wife's steady job in health care, but that doesn't mean the months ahead won't be challenging.
"I'm worried," Inductivo said. As "part of being a dad, the father of this house, of course I need to provide financially for my family."
His company usually films 15-20 weddings a year, says his business partner, Marby Aguilar, and losing even a few will hurt them.
"The wedding season is short," he said. "We need to maximize that time to work and get bookings for weddings."
'I cried, of course'
The job Sharon Bajer lost out on was years in the making.
The Winnipeg actor, playwright and director spent years writing and perfecting her play The Gingerbread Girl — a labour of love that was set to make its world premiere on the Prairie Theatre Exchange stage next month.
It was suddenly cancelled, two days before rehearsals were to start.
"It was pretty sad — I cried, of course," she said.
Bajer says she was crushed not only for the script she spent six years refining, but for the theatre company supporting it and many other productions. PTE also had to cut short the run of By Grand Central Station, which opened on March 12 and closed just a few days later.
She was banking on The Gingerbread Girl for her livelihood — in addition to being its writer, she was also going to direct the premiere production — but now she hopes the federal government's program can help cover the shortfall.
It helps financially that her husband, Carson Nattrass, holds a steady job as the artistic director of the Rainbow Stage.
"I think I would be panicking if both of us are still self-employed," she said.
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