Hospitality Workers Continue to Demand that Their Jobs Be Protected

Unite Here Local 40, which represents 6,000 of the 50,000 hospitality workers in BC, has announced plans to hold five day long fasts in front of the BC Legislature from August 10 to August 14 from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm each day. The Facebook announcement calls on readers to "Join us for a week where fasting workers will demand meetings with our reluctant MLAs, find strength in our community and spiritual allies, and seek justice for the workers who've spent their lives building BC's tourism industry."

The worker wants to meet with members of the Legislature to demand action to protect their jobs regardless of how long they will be laid off due to COVID-19. The tourism industry is asking for a $680 million bailout and the workers insist that any assistance to the industry should be contingent on protection of their jobs. Hotel operators in BC are also calling for a further extension by the provincial government of the layoff period, after which employers have to pay severance, beyond the current end date of August 30, and for the federal government to extend the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

There are 1,252 hotels and 83,000 hotel rooms in the province. All were closed at the onset of the pandemic and about 25 per cent remain closed. Those that have reopened are running at about 30 per cent capacity. Only a small fraction of the regular workforce has been recalled, often at reduced hours of work without regular work schedules.

Prior to announcing the week of fasting at the Legislature, Local 40 organized a series of events to publicize their situation and demands including pickets, rallies and press conferences in front of hotels as well as outside Tourism Minister Lisa Beare's constituency office in Maple Ridge, and at the constituency offices of other Members of the Legislature (MLAs). On July 7 about 60 hotel workers and their supporters rallied outside the Legislature. On July 28 the union organized a protest outside the Shangri-La Vancouver, a high-end hotel owned by Westbank and Peterson Investments, two major Vancouver developers. The protest was against the firing of dozens of workers on layoff by the Shangri-La which follow similar actions at the Pan Pacific and other hotels in the Vancouver area.

The press release issued at the time of the protest at the Shangri-La contains statements from two of the fired workers: KM Chan, formerly laid-off server assistant at Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver said "I don't understand why they had to terminate us. Why couldn't they just leave us on lay-off so we would have jobs to return to after the pandemic? I have co-workers that relied on this job to obtain their permanent residency and were close to getting their PR status, but with these unfair terminations they will lose everything they worked so hard for and could be forced to leave the country." Rajini Fjani, formerly laid-off room attendant at the Pan Pacific Hotel said "Those of us who were fired may be replaced by temporary workers earning minimum wage. My co-workers who remain employed are told they must sign away their years of service to become casual, on-call workers, and waive their severance rights. Otherwise, they will be fired. The Province needs to act now to protect workers and make sure we have jobs to go back to when business improves."

In an email to Lisa Beare, BC's Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Michelle Travis, research director for Local 40, explained that at the Pan Pacific hotel management has asked employees to accept a rollback of their employment rights or risk losing their jobs. She said "They are being asked to give up their regular status, their schedule and seniority to become casual, on-call workers. It also appears they are being given $250 to sign away any claims on severance."

Travis called on the government to create a right-of recall for all workers that remains in place until the pandemic is over, that workers should have a chance to return to their jobs once the industry recovers. If not, she said, employers will hire lower paid workers. "That creates a race to the bottom."

Since the onset of the pandemic employers have sought to use the crisis as pretext for stepping up their attacks on workers' rights which includes stripping unionized workers of working conditions and wages they have won over the years and circumventing minimum standards for non-union workers under Employment Standards. They want to replace stable jobs with casual, on call or gig economy-type contracted jobs where the workers are facing most precarious conditions and are not covered by the Employment Standards Act. It must not pass!

BC hospitality workers are waging a courageous fight for their jobs and for the right of all workers to be treated with dignity and respect and are calling on everyone to support them. Besides joining them at the legislature Unite Here local 40 is asking British Columbians to send a message to their Member of Parliament to adopt the "Hospitality Workers' Three Essentials for a Safe Recovery" which are; protection of workers' jobs, ensuring a safe route back to work, and providing income support to laid-off workers. The letter can be sent from the Unite Here Local 40 website at

(Photos: UNITE HERE 40)

This article was published in

Number 54 - August 13, 2020

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Hospitality Workers Continue to Demand that Their Jobs Be Protected


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