Nepal | July 04, 2020

From hero to zero; coronavirus upends livelihoods across Europe

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  • Pandemic lays waste to hospitality sector
  • Millions may face losing jobs across Europe

DUBLIN/MADRID: On Sunday morning, Irish chef Cúán Greene woke up to the review of his life. Britain’s Observer newspaper told readers his cooking would make them “thrillingly giddy and euphoric”. Hours later he was out of a job.

Bastible, the Dublin restaurant where he was head chef, was closing as a result of the growing threat from the coronavirus. Greene, 27, and 13 colleagues were all let go.

“When you get a great review, it’s a special week every time, and those weeks turn into great months. That’s what’s upsetting because with what’s going on, you feel slightly stunted,” said Greene, who worked in the world famous Danish restaurant Noma before returning home to Dublin.

“That’s very hard to take, I have to admit and that’s what makes me turn at night.”

Greene’s woes are an example of how the coronavirus pandemic is laying waste to hospitality businesses across the board, irrespective of size or success. Employers across Europe are slashing jobs at a ferocious pace as emergency lockdowns shutter bars, restaurants and hotels, empty offices and ground airlines.

It will be months before official national data reveals the scale of the destruction but the International Labour Organization warned on Wednesday that up to 25 million jobs could be lost globally if governments don’t act fast, outpacing the 22 million jobs lost during the 2008-09 financial crisis.

European countries have pledged hundreds of billions of euros to mitigate the economic impact of the virus and have eased the rules to make it easier for people to qualify for unemployment benefit and to help companies keep workers on.

In Italy, the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, the state has gone one step further, suspending any firing procedures begun after February 23.

But even with the promises of cash, the scale of the crisis has authorities scrambling to deal with the demand for help.

‘Savings won’t last’

In Ireland, where Prime Minister Leo Varadkar estimated 100,000 people or more – almost 5% of the workforce – could lose their jobs within two weeks, about 20,000 people presented at unemployment offices to apply for benefits on Friday.

In Germany, where joblessness had reached historic lows, companies have flooded local authorities with requests for state aid to finance short-time work.

“It’s going through the roof,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Labour Office said, adding that there was also interest from sectors that normally don’t apply for such measures.

In Belgium, about 30,000 firms have applied for temporary unemployment benefits for nearly 300,000 workers, a government spokesman said. If granted, the measure allows workers to be paid 70% of their salary by the state.

The abruptness of the layoffs across Europe, coupled with the growing proportion of contract workers who may not qualify so easily for unemployment benefit, mean not everyone will be protected.

Over 100,000 workers across Spain have been let go due to the coronavirus, and the total number could reach 1 million, the head of one of Spain’s largest unions has said.

In central Barcelona, Alejandra Paola Carrera, 27, is worried she won’t qualify for state support because she only started contributing to the social security system last July.

“My savings won’t last me more than a month,” said the office administrator who lost her job on Monday. “I rent a flat with three others and we’re all in the same situation: temporary workers, and just fired.”

Shock For Young People

Single mother Viviana, also in Barcelona, faces a challenge to support herself and her three-year-old daughter after losing her job working in recruitment for a real estate agency.

“With what I earned from my last days of employment I won’t be able to pay my rent, water, or any other bills,” said the 31-year-old, who asked that her surname be withheld.

“I don’t really know what I’ll do,” she added. “I’ll take whatever I can find, because I’m a single mother and my daughter depends on me.”

In Poland, which had been enjoying record low unemployment, the job losses are particularly difficult for younger workers used to having options.

Nicoise Kemp, 23, a student in Warsaw, lost her job at one of the city’s top hotels after four years working there as a waitress and bartender.

“Right now there isn’t even any recruitment going on,” she said. “I think for students this was quite a shock, because one moment we had a job, we had university classes we were very busy, and then one day we don’t have anything.”

With no mortgage or children, Greene, the Irish chef, said he was lucky he could survive on unemployment benefit for now and dip into savings if he had to.

He plans to spend time with his family and learn the “millions of things” that working in a busy kitchen does not allow, like honing his fermentation skills.

“I’m staying very positive,” he said. “I’ve bread on the go right now and I’ve a plot in the garden where I’m going to start planting vegetables. I’m okay for now.”


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