Saskatoon

Laid off Sask. workers face financial pressure amid closures, cancellations

Saskatchewan workers being laid off or stood down due to COVID-19 closures and cancellations are facing uncertainty about the future. 

International students, hospitality workers among those losing work

Workers in the hospitality and events management industries are among those losing work due to COVID-19. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Saskatchewan workers being laid off or stood down due to COVID-19 closures and cancellations are facing uncertainty about the future. 

The federal government received 500,000 applications for employment insurance last week, compared to just 27,000 for the same week in 2019.

Cameco and West Wind Aviation are among the companies that have announced layoffs in Saskatchewan over the past week.  

The provincial Ministry of Immigration and Career Training said it has not tabulated job losses related to COVID-19 because the situation is still evolving.  

Hospitality hit hard

Workers in some Saskatchewan industries are worried about their jobs and finances as temporary closure notices appear on restaurant windows and the list of event cancellations grows longer.

Adrian Chappell, general manager of The Hollows and Primal Pasta restaurants, has been laid off from her job but is working on a volunteer basis in exchange for groceries. 

The Hollows announced Sunday it is closing its doors to focus on running a take out and delivery service from Primal Pasta, which has the same ownership. 

Chappell said the pandemic has dealt a massive blow to the hospitality industry. 

"Right now it is what it is but once people start running out of money I'm very concerned to see what is going to happen ... which direction everything is going to go," she said.

"There's a lot of people that are in my position that can't work for groceries or can't do anything so I'm worried about those people."

Chappell said she will be able to apply to defer her mortgage payments under federal measures introduced in response to the pandemic, but expects to experience financial pressure if the impact to the hospitality industry continues for months. 

She said many of her friends who work in the industry are in a similar position. 

However, she is grateful to be in Saskatchewan during times of hardship. 

"I've talked to many, many people all day on the phone taking orders and sharing their stories non-stop and it's just been wonderful to kind of chat with people and see what their strategies are and see that different workplaces are taking initiatives to support local businesses," Chappell said. 

Uncertainty for international students

Raam Charan Sirigiri is an international student from India doing a master's degree in chemical engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. 

He had a job working at Huskie Athletics university games, but those games ended in late February. He has been unable to secure new work despite approaching multiple restaurants.  

Sirigiri said it has been difficult trying to find out if international students are eligible for government financial assistance. 

"We can't apply for Canadian benefits or anything. In these situations maybe if they can consider us it would be helpful for us," said Sirigiri. 

Dharma Teja Yalamanchili, president of the India Students' Association at the university, said uncertainty is causing anxiety and panic among international students. He said many have lost the part-time jobs they have been relying on to pay their rent. 

He said he is waiting to see if the government will provide any help.

"We appreciate these kind of initiatives because we are here and we are without our parents," Yalamanchili said.

"Because of [uncertainty] you know the stress will be increasing and this caused some kind of anxiety or depression and students. Also mental illness will be raising day-by-day."

He said the university should consider lowering or deferring rental payments for students who live in campus residential facilities. 

Students may discuss their situations with residence staff and deadline extensions may be considered.- Patti McDougall, University of Saskatchewan

A Change.org petition started in Ontario calls for rental payments for international students to be cancelled due to COVID-19. It had more than 120,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

Patti McDougall, the University of Saskatchewan vice-provost of teaching learning and student experience, said the university recognizes this is a challenging time for students. 

"Students may discuss their situations with residence staff and deadline extensions may be considered," she said.

"We are supporting all students that need to stay and are issuing refunds to the students who decide to leave residence."

McDougall added that there is crisis financial aid available to U of S students during unexpected life situations, and that university staff can help students apply.

She said the university will stop charging any interest or late payment fees on student accounts and will alter the tuition payment deadline for spring and summer terms to give students more time to make their payments.

"International students will continue to have access to many services remotely, such as immigration advising through the International Student and Study Abroad Centre," McDougall said. 

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said Raam Charan Sirigiri was unable to work at his job at Huskie Athletics games because they had been cancelled. In fact he started searching for work when the games ended in late February.
    Mar 25, 2020 10:47 AM CT

About the Author

Alicia Bridges is a digital and broadcast journalist at CBC Saskatoon. Email her at alicia.bridges@cbc.ca.

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