November 30, 2020
SENT VIA EMAIL
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC MP
Prime Minister of Canada
Re: Crisis in Canada’s hospitality sector
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
As winter approaches and COVID-19 infection rates continue to increase at an alarming rate, portions of Canada’s economy are on the brink of a second collapse. While some sectors appear to be rebounding, most notably in retail, shipping, logistics and warehousing, and residential construction, many other sectors continue to face a long, uncertain road to recovery.
Canada’s hospitality industry is one of these struggling sectors. In fact, the hospitality industry was among the first and hardest hit and is likely to be one of the last sectors to experience a full recovery. We have heard from our hotel industry employers that they anticipate at least a 2–3 year time period for such a recovery. After a brief bump in business at the end of summer, the second wave of the pandemic and the end of the tourism season have, as anticipated, combined to create a second collapse for the hotel sector. With the holiday season approaching, some of our hotels are reporting occupancy rates of 10% or lower.
The collapse in Canada’s hospitality sector has had a disastrous effect on hotel workers across the country. Both unionized and non-unionized hotel workers have experienced extended lay-offs and even permanent furloughs. As the lay-offs continue, many members are losing access to their benefits, including drug coverage, a looming crisis our union raised with you in a letter sent on August 19th.
We continue to raise alarm bells about this drug coverage crisis, in part because we know that when Canadians lose access to regular healthcare including prescriptions drugs, their medical treatment becomes much more costly to the system, due to the higher cost of acute, emergency care. Those hotel workers lucky enough to be scheduled are experiencing a loss of
income due to decreased hours and gratuities.
The CERB program was a critical lifeline for many workers in the hospitality sector, and we are grateful for the support it provided to hotel workers and their families. However, changes made to the CEWS program have meant that unscheduled CEWS recipients—meaning those receiving the CEWS subsidy but not actively working—are now receiving the much lower EI benefit, an amount far too low to support a worker or their family. As hotel workers look ahead to many more months of lay-offs, their financial future looks dire.
The particular demographics of the hotel workforce make this crisis even more worrisome. Compared to the overall Canadian workforce, hotel workers are more likely to be women, new Canadians, people of colour, young workers, and low-wage or precarious workers. That means that when the industry is struggling, the negative effects fall disproportionately on those Canadians who are already all too often left behind. The flipside of this dynamic is that when we help Canada’s hospitality industry succeed, we also lift up those Canadians who deserve the most support.
In British Columbia, the government has established a task force to help guide that province’s response to the pandemic for the tourism and hospitality sector. We are pleased to note that Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s Western Regional Director, has a seat at that table. The BC Tourism Task Force is using a three-pronged approach to their plan for the sector, and Unifor recommends a similar approach across the country. The three areas of focus are: health and safety measures that will help restore confidence in the industry, support for the labour force, and support for employers.
Based on this three-pronged approach, and building on our experience as Canada’s largest union in the hospitality and gaming sector, we respectfully ask that the federal government adopt the following recommendations:
Work with the provinces to develop, implement, and fund emergency drug coverage programs so that hospitality workers may maintain access to life-saving drugs;
- Revise the CEWS program such that scheduled and non-scheduled workers receive the same level of financial support;
- Provide financial supports for our hospitality employers (including interest-free loans, loan guarantees, or equivalent measures), contingent on worker retention requirements, so that hotel workers can return to work with pre-pandemic wages and working conditions; and
- Invest in training and skills-building programs, giving Canada’s hotel workforce increased employment opportunities within and beyond the industry.
Unifor is prepared to work together with hotel employers, industry groups, the broader labour movement, provincial and federal governments, Indigenous communities, representatives from other hard-hit sectors, and other stakeholders, to build a comprehensive, strategic, and inclusive recovery plan for the hospitality sector.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.
Unifor National President
CC: The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, PC MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance; Unifor Hospitality and Gaming Council