The Collective Wine Bar and Kitchen made the difficult decision to close and lay off 15 employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of Victoria’s service industry say the future is scary and uncertain as businesses remain closed. (Facebook/The Collective Wine Bar and Kitchen)

COVID-19: Victoria’s service industry hit hard by pandemic layoffs

Future uncertain for business owners, restaurant workers

Greater Victoria’s serving industry says more is needed from the federal and provincial government to reduce the financial strain of layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism, culture and hospitality have been hit hard by the impacts of the virus, with many restaurants and small businesses laying off workers and closing in an effort to stay afloat after cruise ship season – and effectively, tourism season – was cancelled to curb the spread of coronavirus.

And under the orders of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, even locals aren’t visiting the city’s bars and restaurants. Most are hardly leaving their homes.

READ MORE: COVID-19 coverage

On March 18, Jon Derry, owner of The Collective Wine Bar and Kitchen in Cook Street Village, made the difficult decision to lay off 15 staff.

“It got to the point where, just for the safety of everyone involved, there was no way we could risk it,” Derry said. “It was in everyone’s best interest to shut down while we wait and see what was going to happen.”

The closure will hurt the small business, but Derry said the impact on staff made the decision even harder.

“It was horrible…it’s an incredibly expensive city to live in, and knowing how much they rely on us to survive is heartbreaking,” he said. “It was a very difficult decision but it was one that we didn’t see any viable alternatives to.”

On Monday the B.C. government announced a $5 billion financial relief package, which comes with a one-time $1,000 payment for those whose ability to work has been affected by the virus, including laid-off workers and those who are sick or quarantined.

The province has set aside $2.2 billion in financial aid for small businesses shut down due to COVID-19.

READ ALSO: B.C. announces $5 billion financial relief for COVID-19 pandemic

Meanwhile Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised direct financial help for vulnerable Canadians and small businesses including an “emergency care benefit” for contractors, freelancers, part-time and gig economy workers who aren’t eligible for EI. The federal government is also proposing a temporary wage subsidy for small businesses and non-profits up to $25,000.

Derry plans to reopen the Collective Wine Bar as soon as it’s safe to do so, but the future remains uncertain.

“Our hope is to qualify for the government loans and reopen and hire everyone back, but that may not be possible,” he said. “It’s very unclear what, if anything, we’ll qualify for.”

Longtime server Christopher Vickers is also facing the unknown after he was laid off from his job at Agrius, an organic brunch and dinner restaurant on Yates Street, where he was working three shifts per week.

“I was laid off and fairly quickly started the confusing process of applying for EI, knowing full well that three days a week on a server’s $13.85 [an hour wage] was not going to be enough to get me through,” he said. “I’ll get about $100 a week with EI. Without the other relief packages from the federal and provincial government, I’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

READ ALSO: Wineries and liquor stores should be essential services: B.C. Wine Institute

The Retail Action Network says the federal government’s efforts aren’t enough to protect workers in the service industry since EI is generally only equal to 55 per cent of regular wages, and gratuities are typically not calculated as insurable earnings.

“This results in a dismal amount for workers who are already living paycheque to paycheque,” says a statement from Emily Thiessen, communications coordinator.

Vickers said the roughly $400 a month he expects from EI won’t be enough to cover his $700 rent, let alone cover the cost of bills and food.

“Desperate people are going to go and make money any way they have to to feed their children and continue to survive, and then they won’t be self-isolating,” he said.

There’s a lot of people that are really scared – small business owners as much as other individuals. I think it’s impacting every layer of hospitality. People are pretty afraid.”



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wheelchair user asks people to leave space on sidewalks to socially distance

Wendy Cox says many people are not stepping off the sidewalk to allow her space

Victoria brewery uses 3D-printer to make face shields for health care workers

Phillips Brewing is teaming up with engineers to create single-use medical equipment

COVID-19: Victoria moves homeless into 35 hotel rooms across the city

Mayor pleads with residents to stay inside during pandemic

Victoria street nurse thanks public for outpouring of donations

Businesses and individuals donated gloves, masks, sanitizers and more to frontline workers

MISSING: 26-year-old woman Shorene Jones

Victoria Police are looking for a woman last seen on March 25

B.C. records first at-home death from COVID-19, but 70+ hospital patients have recovered

Total of 970 novel coronavirus cases in B.C., with the majority in the Lower Mainland area

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Pay parking suspended at B.C. hospitals due to COVID-19

Temporary free parking reduces need for keypads, contact

Helping those at risk, one piece of paper at a time through ‘isolation communication’

Simple paper tool during pandemic making its way across Canada thanks to social media.

‘Back to school, in a virtual way’ for B.C. students in COVID-19 pandemic

Province adds online resources to help parents at home

Canadian ferry operators call for inclusion in COVID-19 travel restrictions

Domestic travel restrictions should include ferries, operators say

Canadian COVID-19 round-up: Air Canada cuts 15,000 jobs, 90% of flights

Comprehensive Canadian news update as of 2:30 p.m., Monday, March 30.

Most Read