Nfld. & Labrador

The unemployed: Here are some of the people behind the dwindling workforce

After months of training, waiting out Snowmageddon, and a stretch of unemployment, Carla McEvoy was ready to take to the skies as a flight attendant. COVID-19 put a stop to her dream.

Carla McEvoy is stuck in a cycle of being laid off, and she's sick of it

Carla McEvoy hooked a job out of flight attendant school but was laid off by PAL Group before making it to the skies. (Submitted by Carla McEvoy)

After months of training, waiting out Snowmageddon, and a stretch of unemployment, Carla McEvoy was ready to take to the skies as a flight attendant.

"My first flight was on Wednesday. I got laid off the Thursday before," said McEvoy, 23, of Admiral's Beach, St. Mary's Bay.

"I'm heartbroken. Absolutely heartbroken."

McEvoy is one of millions of Canadians stuck without work and having to rely on government benefits to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

PAL Group announced on March 23 it issued temporary layoff notices to more than 300 employees, with roughly half the layoffs in Newfoundland and Labrador, McEvoy included.

The one bright side, McEvoy said, is that she had no trouble filing her employment insurance claim. She's used to navigating the system, having been laid off from home construction company Rona the year before.

"I didn't really work in the summer because there is no work around the bay," McEvoy said.

Carla McEvoy, third in middle row, says she's been unemployed for nearly a year. (AfaaHalifax/Instagram)

"I was on EI throughout last summer, went to school in September for three months, hooked a job, and now I'm laid off again, so I'm definitely going crazy."

McEvoy's layoff from PAL is temporary, but like so many other Canadians walloped by the consequences of a global pandemic, the future is uncertain.

"I don't really know what normal is going to be for me when I go back to work — if I even get back to work because they might be in such a hard shape that they might not hire me back," she said.

"I had plans on once I get on my feet and gets working, get my own spot in town, move out and get on my own again and all of this happens."

Road construction predicament

Statistics Canada released employment data from March that revealed a loss of 7,000 part-time jobs when compared with February numbers, or a plunge of nearly 20 per cent.

Surprisingly, full-time jobs increased, but that was before the pandemic was in full swing. Overall the province lost 5,800 jobs for the month of March.

This is the time of year when Michelle Eastman and her husband begin to gear up for work in road construction.

The Gander Bay couple are seasonal workers who rely on employment insurance throughout the winter — something she says many other people do in the small central Newfoundland community.

But even that has hit a snag.

Michelle Eastman and her husband are seasonal workers who rely on employment during the winter. (Submitted by Michelle Eastman)

Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker says this will not be a normal year for road work, and there have been delays in granting tenders. The department is assessing each job to see if it can be done safely with COVID-19 distancing rules in mind.

"If we do get to go back to work, say it is September, construction season only lasts until November. What are we going to do with two months' work?" Eastman said.

The Eastmans don't want to lose regular EI by signing on to federal government benefits that are in place due to COVID-19.

"It will be lower. We're all wondering, if we sign onto this, will our regular EI benefits continue as well?" Eastman said. "It will be very difficult. We struggle now with regular EI."

A spokesperson with Employment and Social Development Canada said seasonal workers whose EI runs out between now and October 2020 can apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

There will be no other program assisting seasonal workers on top of the $2,000 monthly benefit.

Business dreams on hold

Sarah Whelan held a grand opening for her new salon, Shine, in January, a week before the massive snowstorm hit. 

Whelan, a mother of two, said the Riverhead, St. Mary's Bay area was in need of a hair salon and was excited to begin her new career as an entrepreneur.

On March 15, the provincial government ordered hair salons to close during the pandemic, just months into her new job.

"I had a really heavy heart when I got the news we had to close. I totally understand infection control and the fact that we have to do our part to flatten the curve, but it was certainly disheartening," she said.

"You're trying to make your mark as an entrepreneur and it's hard."

Sarah Whalen's dream of having her own salon was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is looking forward to getting back on her feet once regulations lax. (Submitted by Sarah Whalen)

Whelan is able to take advantage of the emergency relief benefit, something she commends the federal government for implementing, though it is not as much as the family is used to taking in.

In the meantime, Whelan says her family is getting a lot of projects done in their house, and she's looking ahead to when some of the regulations are relaxed, including getting barriers between herself and nail clients.

"I think it's going to be the way of the future," Whelan said.

"We're all going to have to continue to practise superb infection control and be mindful of what's out there."

How long will it last?

Then there are the workers who are still required on the job but don't see the benefits outweighing the negatives.

Christine Kirby is a cleaner in St. John's who primarily works inside businesses and organizations. Her job is essential — and is in high demand — but she doesn't feel comfortable working.

"The virus is making me nervous. Not so much for me, but for other people around me," Kirby said. "I'm just trying to protect them as much as I can."

Kirby said her employer is understanding, but she's unsure how long she will be able to be off work.

Projections released by the provincial government suggest cases of COVID-19 could peak around mid-November, although Health Minister John Haggie has been clear that projections are not a crystal ball.

"If it's not over soon, I'm going to have to head back to work and I won't feel comfortable doing that."

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About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.