Living

8 Canadian Women On Being Laid Off Due To COVID-19

‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do.’

The economic impact of the coronavirus has been felt around the world and here at home: Nearly half of Canadian households have seen people laid off or working reduced hours due to COVID-19, according to a new Angus Reid poll. While new economic relief funds have been introduced, the same poll found that half of those who applied for employment insurance (51 percent) said it was a difficult process and they have yet to be paid.

We spoke to eight women from various industries and positions who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. They shared with us their experiences, their next moves—and how they’re getting through this time.

Ashley Jacot De Boinod

(Photo: Faces of Food)

Age: 34
Job: Owner of Glory Hole Doughnuts in Toronto
When she realized she’d have to shut down her business: “On the weekend [of March 14-15], I was starting to feel really uncomfortable knowing that my staff [of 17] were dealing with the public still. Obviously things escalated pretty quickly as to what was safe and what wasn’t safe. The turning point for me was definitely on [that] weekend … My last day was on Monday [March 16] and we shut things down on Tuesday.”
Telling her staff was very emotional: “It was incredibly difficult. We had our management meeting online and I was tearing up, and I was very happy to see how everyone took it. You never know how someone’s going to react to that news. But I made sure to let them know that I, myself, have to go on [Employment Insurance] as well. Everybody’s in the same boat and we’re just here to support each other.”
She didn’t consider staying open for delivery: “That was never an option for me because the importance of my staff’s safety is just too great.”
She’s playing it day by day: “I’m willing to shut down for as long as it takes for people to be safe.”
She’s thinking about her expenses: “Pandemic or not, small businesses are still liable [for] their expenses … Luckily, one of my landlords has given me half my rent check back for April, the other hasn’t mentioned anything. Rent is going to come into play soon … For landlords is should be a no brainer at this point to defer their tenants’ rent, whether it’s commercial or residential, it should all just stop. I think the people who are seeing the biggest loss are wage workers, so anything on top of EI that can be forwarded on to them for relief is top priority.”
What she’s been doing to keep busy: “I’ve definitely been working out a lot. I’m going to be baking some stuff today and I do meditation.”

Shivani Srivastava

(Photo provided)

Age: 26
Job: Production manager in the film/tv industry
She guessed a week before it happened that her film would go on hiatus: “I get brought on project-to-project, so we were doing a film. We’re in the shooting stage and all of our shoots are international, we were supposed to have a shoot in Venice this week. We saw the coronavirus coming because I had to do a lot of research for the safety of the crew for travel … So we had a few calls last week with broadcasters and I knew it was going to go on a hiatus. It all happened very quickly in the span of 24 hours, we sort of shut everything down [Tuesday, March 17].”
She won’t be paid because she’s self-employed: “I’m a freelancer, which means when they go on hiatus I am let go with the intention that I can go back as soon as it starts up again.”
The biggest thing for her is the financial burden: “Living in Toronto, you’re usually paying sky-high rent. I live alone, so for me the biggest concern isn’t things like food; it’s financial. I’m not working from home so you don’t get any paycheques or anything that keeps you afloat, so that’s the most worrisome part… This is not going to be a two-week thing, it’s going to go on for a little bit. For self-employed people, the range is so big for what you usually make in a year. Especially in the film industry and the television industry, depending on the role you have, some are very high paying and some are low paying. So I think having access to an equivalent of EI, which I know Trudeau announced, but to have it come into effect faster. If the program takes time to start up, it obviously still means a month or month and a half without any income or help before it all kicks in.”
Her advice for other people in her situation? “The best thing I would say is, to the best of your ability, try to keep in good spirits in any way that you usually do [while staying safe]. Like I’m always talking with my friends [virtually/on the phone] and going on walks—just keep it moving and have the days pass in not a sombre way.”

Stepheny Hunter

(Photo Provided)

Age: 24
Job: Actor and theatre front-of-house manager
She lost both her jobs on the same day: “This would have been Friday [March 20] … I had a contract to go do a play, it was going to be about five weeks in a different city. I hadn’t signed a contract yet so we don’t get any pay from it which is unfortunate … And so the same day the theatre I work at decides to cancel our performances. I’m a front of house manager so I helped put the shows on but pretty much everyone in the theatre lost their jobs that day.”
She didn’t realize how quickly it would all happen: “I also teach theatre at the theatre school and so I also lost that job, because they had to shut down theatre camps. Within hours everything drastically shifted. I, and so many of my friends and peers, were out of work and unfortunately [in the] upcoming months a lot of us had really good, solid work lined up. We thought we were going to be getting a certain amount of money this upcoming spring and for the foreseeable future all of a sudden that is just gone.”
She’s crossing her fingers for a rent freeze: “I know I’ll be okay for at least the next little while, especially when EI comes through because of savings and I’m quite privileged in that sense, of having some bit of backup … But if this goes on for the foreseeable future, I can only hold up for a couple months. I really don’t know what [I’m] going to do.”
Aside from EI, she’s seen financial help for artists elsewhere: “I know Canadian Council for the Arts is trying to figure out a way of paying artists who’ve lost money from COVID-19. So if that works out, that would be really great because it means that the five weeks of solid pay I was going to receive, I could still somehow get. There’s also hope that because it’s theatre, a lot of it hasn’t necessarily been cancelled. A lot of it’s on hold or postponed at the moment. It’s really having this hope that it will eventually happen and at some point we will get paid for that work.”
She’s trying to stay creatively fulfilled: “[I’m] working on different plays [and I] enjoy playing music. But it is sometimes strange when you get into a certain headspace. It’s hard to find that drive to work when so much is unknown. I’m working on a play that’s hopefully going to be happening in the fall and working on it is hard because I don’t know if it’ll actually happen or if it’ll have to be pushed off. So finding that drive to do anything is pretty difficult.”

Faly Mevamanana

(Photo provided)

Age: 24
Job: Actor/performer
Her contract was cancelled on March 13: “I was contracted at the Grand Theatre [in London, Ont.] and I was supposed to be working there from February 10th until May 22nd and unfortunately it was cancelled as many of the theatres in the country were. I was performing in schools so [initially] we were more concerned about [a potential teachers’] strike and how it was affecting our run. Then we found out the theatre was going to cancel the entire season. Not just our contract but all the contracts, all the plays and musicals that they were going to present that year. We were all terminated.”
Aside from the Emergency Response Benefit, she’s seen grants for artists: “I know places like the National Theatre School and the National Arts Centre have put out grants, so they were offering $60,000 and $100,000 in grant money that people can apply for if there’s a project they want to work on during this time because so many people are out of work.”
She flew to Halifax to stay with her sister so she wouldn’t have to pay rent: “When my contract ended I was in London, Ont., and I didn’t have a place to stay in Toronto. I sublet my place until the end of May, when my contract was supposed to end. I would have loved the opportunity to go back to Toronto if I knew rent wasn’t something I had to be stressed out about. I definitely have a lot of friends pushing for [a rent freeze]. Offering rent release is really great not just for people who have to live and can’t work during this time but also for small businesses that are being forced to shut down by the government.”
She’s not sure what’s going to happen in her industry: “I think like many people, I’m just confused and not sure where the world is going. I was hoping this would be over, a lot of theatres just closed down for a month and I was hoping things would start back up again mid-April, but now I’m hearing it’s going to be even longer, a few months. People will still be creating though, I think now more than ever people are going toward art.”
She’s staying connected to the arts community: “They’re creating some really awesome stuff. Like there’s a Social Distancing Festival right now that Nick Green created, and through that he’s showcasing work that was cancelled by all of these artists … And Convergence Theatre is doing an over-the-phone mini play series that I’m excited to be a part of. Basically people are going to write in about their experience with COVID-19 and they’re going to get a call like a week later and artists would’ve created something for them, whether it ends up being a painting or a song or a play [based on their experiences]. It’s really nice people are still creating art in this industry, at this time.”

Gwen Yuen

(Photo provided)

Age: 55
Job: Owner/manager of Ferrovia Ristorante (in Thornhill, Ont.)
When she realized she’d have to close her restaurant: “I was delaying and delaying it because we’ve been open 20 years and I was floored at how many things we survived over the years. I was trying to be optimistic from the first time I heard about [COVID-19] coming to Canada … but then I had to convince myself we had to close last Tuesday [March 17]. We tried to do takeout but it just wasn’t worthwhile for us.”
Being away from her staff has been heartbreaking: “My staff has been with me for almost the whole 20 years. It was really sad the last few days because we just had nothing to do and all we could do was talk about this … We literally see each other everyday and now we’re just talking to each other online, texting. We were just talking about all the things we went through to keep this restaurant open. We’ve had power outages. We went through SARS when we first opened. Anything that affects a restaurant, like inclement weather, blackouts. We’ve had five break-and-enters. We’ve had flooding from plumbing issues, we’ve been through so much.”
She’s worried about her staff’s finances: “I informed all the staff that we’ll be putting out records of employment so they could apply for EI. It’s tough for a server because they get a lower hourly wage and rely on gratuities. I know how hard it’s going to be for our service staff because they [won’t] make the same money they do when they normally work on the floor.”
She’s used to working 55 hours a week: “This past weekend was my first weekend off since the fall. My life has always been very structured. So now I’m trying to do the same thing. Like get up, do a routine, work out … Now I’m doing some spring cleaning. I’m trying to establish a routine, [because] how much Netflix can you watch really?”
She’s trying to be optimistic about government benefits that could help her as a business owner: “I’m looking into whether we can get deferred rent, maybe some deferred payments to our suppliers. My partner’s also looking for possibly another loan, we’ll need to rebuild our inventory when we re-open. We’re still trying to be optimistic that we’ll re-open [but] formal closure looks inevitable the longer this goes on … I know we can get the customers back. I know I can get my staff back. It’s just the cash flow.”
Her advice for other business owners in her predicament: “If you have a partner or staff you can talk to, you just have to bounce ideas back and forth on what to do. Stay optimistic, this will pass. Like I said, we had so many issues at the restaurant over the past 20 years. I’ve always said, what can we not withstand?”

Gabby Frank

(Photo provided)

Age: 26
Job: Freelance photographer
When she realized she’d be out of work: “I touched base with some clients just to ask if they wanted to push the shoots. This was kind of early on when we were first hearing about it [in early March] and everyone was still a bit uncertain. And then everything just kind of blew up and became a lot more serious. So everything that I had scheduled for this month and even next month has just been, I’d like to say postponed, but it’s basically cancelled unfortunately.”
She’s been using the time to focus on other tasks: “As someone who’s self employed, I always have a lot of tasks that I need to do that I put on the back burner while I’m trying to focus on production for clients. I’m using this time now to update my website and I want to create a print sale as well, that would be a source of income that I can do without interacting with people.”
She’s trying to stay positive: “Almost every [photography] job involves human interaction. I photograph a lot of food and restaurants, and of course a lot of them [are now] closed. I’m sure after all this, budgets are going to be a lot different because people are going to be building up fresh again. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen … I’m definitely very fortunate to be self-employed, to have my own business, and I never really expected this type of halt. I’m used to a slow season but this is very different.”
Along with applying for the Emergency Response Benefit, she’s also applied to artist grants: “[I applied] a month ago to one [grant] through Format, which is based in Toronto. That’s how I made my website … It’s like a website host [that] anyone can use, but it’s pretty specific to photographers. So that was pretty nice.”
Her advice? “Reach out to others who are in a similar situation. Even before everything happened with this virus, [I have] a group of photographer friends and other creative friends and we bring each other up in ways we don’t expect. Whether it’s someone saying what they’re doing that day and you feel like, Oh, I would also like to do that, or collaborate in a way you never thought. Just getting out of your comfort zone and using this time to do things that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time but didn’t really have the time to do.” She also got in touch with different companies such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Pixieset, and they’ve granted a few months of free use due to COVID-19 loss of income. She encourages other people to also reach out to companies and see where they can save money.

Alyssa Obrigewitsch

Age: 27
Job: Freelance stage manager
How her livelihood has been impacted: “I’m contracted per show. The contract that has been interrupted by this was at the Lower Ossington Theatre, we were supposed to be putting [on] Matilda in April.
She’ll be applying to the Emergency Support Benefit: “Anything that helps to deal with the everyday, like rent, utilities are a big one. I know utilities in Ontario are going down a little bit for the next month to try and help people in this situation. But rent is probably the biggest expense that most people have that we can’t avoid. Like you can cut down on certain groceries and buying clothes, but you have to pay rent … Although it’s tricky, because I think my rent is a big source of [my landlord’s] income. So without my rent, that’s another family that’s also without money, which is not ideal.”
She’s waiting and seeing what’s around the corner: “I can apply for other jobs and I can work out of theatre to make money, but I don’t think [getting another job is] going to happen for a while … There are things being set up for artists so they can continue to create things, like there are grants for writers and musicians, but I’m a stage manager, I basically corral the creative people.”
Advice for other people in her situation? “Hang in there? I don’t know. That sounds like a cat poster. I think we’re all just planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Stacey Lipstein

(Photo provided)

Age: 39
Job: Hair Stylist/ stylist
She realized she’d probably have to shut down her business when school closures were announced: “I sent an email to clients just as things started to really ramp up. I was being super [cautious] with clients and then I was like, I’m pretty sure I have to suspend business. I had a couple people at the beginning of the week [of March 16] and then I thought maybe I’ll see one person, but then I felt like I probably shouldn’t.”
She rents a commercial space and usually sees between five to nine clients on a daily basis: “I actually just reached out to my landlord. The building’s shared, I have a bit of a sublet thing. I told my landlord last week when all this was coming down that I don’t think I can pay for rent. So I just reached out to see what she was thinking, because I might have to permanently close my business. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
Opening up EI for self-employed people was huge for her: “Typically you can’t apply for EI. Though I’m still trying to figure out [childcare] for my son, aside from the additional childcare benefits. A lot of small businesses are going to go under because of this. If you have to be closed for a couple months then you’ve lost all your staff, chances are you have to buy all your stock again if things go back. There should definitely be some type of outreach to support [small businesses].”
What would have to happen for her to feel comfortable taking clients? “I guess knowing that I was not endangering anyone as well as no one else coming through my door could potentially be endangering me. I keep thinking about a vaccine. It’s so easily transmitted and on top of that I have asthma so I’m feeling extra vulnerable. A lot of the numbers going down as well as getting into the clear and feeling safe probably might prompt me to go back to work.”
Her advice to other owners of small businesses: “Try and communicate as much as you can to your landlords, to other people who can support you—do whatever in this time that’s going to make you feel safe and okay … Use all your resources and see what’s available to you. I think there’s probably a lot more available than we know, through the government, through banks, through your suppliers and your landlords.”

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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