Coronavirus lockdown plunges restaurant workers into difficulties – “It’s society’s responsibility to alleviate the situation”
On average, restaurant workers’ incomes drop by a third when lay-off begins. They have to get by with take-home income of a thousand euros. Incomes have been decreasing for a year already and the difficulties piling up. The restrictions are continuing so relief needs to be provided for workers in the sector, demands Annika Rönni-Sällinen, President of Service Union United PAM, which is putting forward three proposals.
Last year, the monthly pay of a typical full-time employee in the restaurant sector was 2,021 euros. Workers who are made redundant or laid off completely and receive earnings-related security see their gross income collapse by a third to 1269 euros a month. That leaves around a thousand after tax - 1043 euros. Housing costs alone take up the majority of that. Many workers were originally part-time, so their income is even lower.
“The measures taken to combat the coronavirus epidemic have put restaurant sector workers in a very precarious situation. For over a year now, the various restrictions have worsened their employment and earnings possibilities. They can’t be expected to bear this burden alone. Society has a responsibility to make life easier for them”, says PAM’s President Annika Rönni-Sällinen.
“Laid-off and unemployed. I’ve had to give up on all sorts of things. I often wonder if I’ll die of hunger or coronavirus”, was how one restaurant sector worker described their situation in the survey PAM carried out in early March.
Now new periods of lay-off or unemployment are starting for many workers. Last year, temporary changes to unemployment security meant that the unemployment allowance period started straight away. Now there is a five-day waiting period during which workers receive no allowances.
“This is totally unreasonable in the present situation. The government orders restaurants to close for the greater good. This means workers get laid off, but for five days they have no income. The waiting period has to be removed during the coronavirus epidemic”, Rönni-Sällinen demands.
“Just today I signed my fifth lay-off slip. It was just beginning to look like I could pay off my outstanding bills and get back to normal and then I’m hit with another lay-off”, is how another worker describes the present situation.
Low-paid workers have minimal financial buffers and unemployment can ruin their incomes. Now that the epidemic has been raging for a year, those buffers are pretty much used up.
“We demand that unemployment security should be at least 85—90 per cent of previous wages for workers laid off and made redundant due to the coronavirus crisis and the restrictions placed on business activities. Now it’s around 60 per cent”, Rönni-Sällinen says.
It seems that some restrictions are sure to stay in place even after the lockdown is over. PAM thinks that in the meantime companies could prepare for this by holding on to their workers.
“Preparations should start immediately for a wage subsidy system that would operate through companies’ payroll systems. Subsidies of this sort are in place during the epidemic in Denmark and Australia, for instance. This subsidy would allow employment relationships to continue and then the sector could bounce back more quickly when the restrictions are lifted”, Rönni-Sällinen describes.
This system would also cut the government’s overall expenditure as workers wouldn’t have to be laid off and wouldn’t have to resort to unemployment security or housing and social assistance.