Coronavirus lay-offs: ‘Myself and my husband were laid off within hours of each other’

Employees and business owners share their experiences of the Covid-19 crisis

The Department of Social Protection is struggling to maintain social distancing with the surge in emergency unemployment claims from people signing on due to the coronavirus outbreak. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland are already out of work due to the coronavirus crisis, with many thousands more jobs in jeopardy.

The Irish Times asked employees and business owners who have been impacted by the crisis to share their stories. Here is a selection of the responses we received from around the country.

JP McMahon, Galway: ‘We’ve let 35 staff go on temporary leave’

It’s a very difficult time for us. We’ve closed our restaurants. Let 35 staff go on temporary leave. It’s hard because there doesn’t seem to be an end point. We’re closed now but for how long? How and when will we re-open? I don’t have answers for my staff. But I have to show leadership. We’re in constant touch with each other. We have flour and yeast and eggs. They can all make bread. We’ll only survive this by staying together: as a family, as a restaurant, as a community, as a city, as a country. We need to mind each other.

Natalie, Dublin: ‘I’ll be broke’

I’m a freelance journalist. I work from home and also run a private Airbnb room from our apartment. All my bookings for March have cancelled, and I have no upcoming stays. I’ll be broke, but I still wouldn’t accept any stays during this Covid-19 outbreak because I don’t want to encourage non-essential travel. I’m not worried for myself, as I’m reasonably healthy and in my late 20s, but I’m worried for my parents in their mid 60s. My mother suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and my dad recently got out of hospital. He took his own stitches out the other day because he didn’t want to go to hospital and risk getting the virus.

Francois Jacusse, Dublin: ‘Restaurants and hospitality took a big hit to try and solve this crisis’

I am a chef living in Ireland for nearly 20 years. As the virus start to spread in Ireland, the restaurant where I work, Woodruff, like many others in the country, took the hard but logical decision to close to help stop the spread, protect our colleagues, customers, friends and families. Restaurants and hospitality took a big hit to try and solve this crisis, now most of this industry is unemployed.

Jason O’Callaghan: ‘Both my companies closed’

Both my companies closed this week. I run a psychologist clinic in Blackrock, and as we can’t have close access to people, we closed. Plus I run a wedding company supplying entertainment; this business has frozen as weddings are cancelled or reorganised to later this year or next. I have no income at all now coming in for the next while, with three kids under seven.

Anonymous: ‘We more than likely will not survive the loss in earnings’

We are in the massage business and employ 10 staff. We closed yesterday and it looks like it will be months before we can open again. After seven years in business and a client base built up with love and care, we more than likely will not survive the loss in earnings to reopen.

Anonymous: ‘We have to stay open due to unsupportive landlords’

As small business owners in a major shopping centre, we are under pressure to open. If we close voluntarily, we are still obligated to pay our rent. We have reduced the staff hours, but feel bad that we have to stay open due to unsupportive landlords. This is a huge problem, one that many small business owners face in this unprecedented time.

Jane: ‘There is no such thing as social distancing in a salon’

I work is a busy hair salon. Through a combination of naivety and a fear of the future, the owner decided to remain open. “Everyone is over reacting, country gone mad, what’s the big deal here,” some co-workers say, echoed by the owner. “Two weeks closed won’t cure the country.” I have two children and rely on my minimum wage income. I am scared to speak up and say no, this is a wrong decision. Clients will still come to the salon if it’s open. But there is no such thing as social distancing in a salon. The decision to make myself unemployed from a job I love is heartbreaking.

Sarah Lennon, Ballinasloe: ‘Covid-19 has brought everything to a standstill’

I went out as self employed in the middle of February, leaving my full-time job in the tech world to branch out as a career coach. It kicked off with a bang, but Covid-19 has brought everything to a standstill. That, coupled with the fact that I have two small children - 1.5 years and 5.5 years - home with me full time for the foreseeable future means the business has essentially been put on hold. My partner is a plumber and there are no signs (yet obviously) of that letting up. Is it scary? Yes. Is it a challenge? Of course. Yet I’m trying to see the opportunity here as much as I can and offer support to those who may have lost their jobs, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism sectors. There is the added bonus of time with the kids which is..... delightful, most of the time!

Sarah Drumm: ‘I was planning on moving to London this week’

I was planning on moving to London this week. I had left my job in Dublin, and have been packing up my apartment. Now I don’t know if I can move. I’m surrounded by boxes waiting to hear if the movers can collect my things. I have no job in London organised - I have a job interview but no date for it given the situation.

Michelle King, Greystones: ‘My dad’s small business supplies food to hotels, restaurants and pubs’

My dad’s small business supplies food to hotels, restaurants and pubs in Cavan and Monaghan. The pubs and restaurants closing has in turn shut down his business. If you are a small business owner and have closed your business, your livelihood, in the past few days to help flatten the curve, you understand the impact of this virus is not only on people’s health. If you are an employee who has been told that you have no job to return to for at least two weeks, you understand Covid-19 is impacting everything.

Michelle Lynch Power: ‘I am panicking about my bank loans and mortgage’

I’ve had to close my audiology business, it supplements my part-time work in Audiology in Tallaght Hospital. I am panicking about my bank loans and mortgage. As I work in the hospital, I won’t be afforded the benefits and exemptions being given to purely self-employed people. I had to find a silver lining, so I am putting my energies into a Covid-19 community help group on Facebook, which is now 600 + volunteers strong. It’s busy trying to identify people who need our help that are not on social media. Lean times, but we all have to stick together.

Anonymous, Kilkenny: ‘I’m a bar manager. I’ve been let go’

I’m a bar manger in a local hotel. I’ve been let go from my job. I cannot understand why the Government has not closed other non-essential places, such as my local McDonald’s. It was full with customers the last few days.

Madhura Sawant, Dublin: ‘What about people who were looking for jobs?’

I graduated with a master’s degree couple of months ago and started looking for jobs in finance but due to the coronavirus outbreak it is obvious that there will be no more job openings left. In fact, people are becoming unemployed. I cannot even apply for part-time roles. People like me, we constantly have to pay the rent and bills every month. How are we supposed to cope with this situation if the Government will not take any measures to help us out in our financial crisis? The Government is compensating people who lost their jobs, but what about us? What about people who were looking for jobs? We are international students and now because of this we have to ask money from our families.

Anonymous: ‘Myself and my husband were laid off within hours of each other’

Myself and my husband both work in the hotel industry. As of last week my general manager didn’t foresee a problem and refused to acknowledge that there was an issue let alone that there may be job losses. Fast forward to today and myself and my husband were laid off within hours of each other. We have 5 children and rent. There are bills that simply won’t be paid while we try to put food on the table.

I’m angry at the way the situation was handled by our management but understand why the layoffs were necessary. I have been told it could be the end of the year before I have a job to go back to. Not weeks, potentially nine months. That’s not a temporary lay-off in any way, shape or form. Many staff that were laid off won’t be back because we can’t afford to stay out of work that long. I’ve applied for the emergency payments and hope they are processed quickly because if not, I don’t want to think about the alternative.

Graham Gilligan, Dublin: ‘My business and income is dependent on students from around the world travelling to Ireland’

I run a small educational agency, www.welcomeireland.ie. We organise English language programmes, Erasmus+ programmes and internships in Ireland from students from around the world. My business and income is dependent on students from around the world travelling to Ireland for these programmes. October to February is usually a quiet time for the agency with little or no income. The income generated from the high season (March - September) helps me survive during the quiet season, paying rent, bills and the usual costs of running a business.

This year as usual, reservations and enquiries started coming in from the start of February and this year was looking like it was improving from last year. This is my 3rd year in this business and the first two years were spent building the business up. One of my main sources of income is Spanish and European groups coming to Ireland for English summer camps as well as US graduates coming for long-term internships. By the start of March, it was evident potential clients were opting for a ‘wait and see’ approach, but within two weeks and the scale of the problem was clear with schools closing, business shutting up shop and European borders being closed, we started receiving our first cancellations. Now, in the third week of March, all our bookings have now cancelled. We’ve had to refund everyone who has paid, all our European groups have cancelled, all the internships programmes have been cancelled and we don’t expect to receive any new bookings for the foreseeable future, so, we have in effect, lost all our business for 2020.

I have already contacted my bank about deferring mortgage payments but so far their response has been to “fill in a SFS” and such opaque replies as “we don’t have a payment moratorium as of yet”. My present situation is precarious - if new clients don’t start to book soon, I will fall into serious arrears on my mortgage.

Catherine Casey, Dublin: ‘The reality of not working is a terrifying one’

My dance school closed down in line with primary, secondary schools etc last Thursday. The decision was the right one but it’s had such a devastating, financial and emotional impact on myself and the staff. We are all self-employed or sub-contractors so the reality of not working and earning for our families while we are still well and able is a terrifying one.

I went to the dole office for the first time on Saturday. Super helpful and lovely but I still bawled like a small kid when I got home and realised that my hard worked-for business is closed indefinitely. No more so than anyone else out of work right now. My heart and soul goes out to you all.

Iain Toal McDermott, Dublin: ‘The aviation industry has been hit so badly’

I work for a Company in Dublin Airport. I was a Flight Dispatcher, “was” being the operative word. The Industry has been hit so badly, many whom worked through 9/11 has called it the worse they’ve ever seen. Flight Dispatchers, Ramp Crews, Air Crews, everyone is at risk but still go to work and do their best knowing that it may be the last; it happened me last Saturday. It is unprecedented and who knows how it will turn out, but all I can say is that I have no hard feelings or ill words to say about losing my job because many more will be unemployed before all of this is over, and it is not the main worry, nor care we should be giving. We need to get up and rally as an island community like I know we can, and fight! I wish everyone to be safe and mind one another.

Bruce Henry, Dublin: ‘I was just managing to get by but this has decimated my business’

I came here as an immigrant in 2009. I started my murder mystery event business back in 2013 (MurderOnTheMenu.ie) and became an Irish citizen in 2015. Since the day I arrived I’ve never taken a penny off the State. I’ve always relied on myself or the generosity of friends and family to get by in times of need, but never the State. It started with a major reduction in requests and bookings since January, almost 33 per cent down over last year. We managed to get through January and February fairly well although it was clear we’d have to tighten our belt.

March was different. It even felt different. I remember the day we received our first cancellation and thinking, “I hope that’s the only one”. Over the next 10 days we’d lose all 12 events that were on the books for March and the beginning of April. We’re currently in a negative net booking position which means we have more cancellations than we do new bookings. I’ve been in contact with my TDs regarding the severity of the situation and the urgent need for an economic stimulus recovery package for SMEs. With rents and insurance sky high, I was just managing to get by but this has decimated my business. What’s next? Homelessness? The Government needs to intervene to keep the economy afloat otherwise the consequences on the other side will be much more severe.

Jenny, Dublin: ‘Thousands of therapists and hairdressers are out of work’

One sector that has been overlooked by the media that has also been hugely impacted is the beauty sector. As our work is hands on, we cannot maintain a safe social distance from our clients. As an industry, thousands of therapists and hairdressers are out of work. This industry relies on treatments and services to meet payroll, cover the huge cost of commercial rent, for utilities, VAT payments, etc.

I hope to take on a bank overdraft to keep my employees on the payroll until the Government supports are put into place. I hope my landlord is flexible. I hope Revenue is understanding as January/February VAT bills are due this month. I live in hope because as a small business owner who has worked so hard for so long, I have nothing else right now. Closing our doors for hopefully the short term will help all of us in the long term.

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