Hotel workers who lost their jobs due to pandemic firings were not helped by the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and may not benefit from the Liberal Government’s new federal hiring subsidy, the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP), proposed in the 2021 Budget. Instead, federal subsidies may reward bad corporate behaviour as they bypass hard-hit hospitality workers, primarily women and people of colour, according to a new report by UNITE HERE Canada, Inhospitable: How Hotel Employers Take Government Relief and Leave Workers out in the Cold.
Despite hotel industry pleas for government subsidies and other economic relief to save workers’ jobs, hotel employers have shed much of their staff anyway. With unprecedented levels of job loss in the sector, the report questions why employers who failed to use CEWS to keep their workforce intact, or who eliminated much of their staff rather than commit to retain them, should be eligible for the new hiring subsidy.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the new hiring subsidy, CRHP, along with a proposed extension of CEWS during her budget speech. The Liberal government is proposing to extend CEWS with a new clawback provision for publicly traded companies that increase executive pay while using the program. However, there are no clawbacks proposed for private companies who abuse CEWS. It is unclear whether there will be any restrictions or clawbacks for companies that abuse the federal hiring subsidy.
The report provides a list of hotels like Pacific Gateway, currently a federal quarantine site, Sheraton Ottawa, Hilton Vancouver Metrotown and others that tapped CEWS, terminated staff or have not committed to bring workers back. Many of the owners – real estate developers, wealthy investors, and large private corporations – are seeking drastic economic rollbacks from workers. Some of these hotel owners could be eligible for the new hiring subsidy.
While Minister Freeland has centered the 2021 budget as a feminist economic response to the COVID-crisis, the government is offering public subsidies to hotel employers who undercut the ability of its largely female and racialized workforce to participate in an inclusive recovery. The hotel industry has lobbied for relief in the name of protecting workers’ jobs to secure CEWS extensions, the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP), and the new CRHP.
Across the border, other government bodies are taking proactive steps to help workers retain their jobs. The report points to several U.S. jurisdictions, including the State of California, that have adopted “worker recall” laws that will allow workers affected by the pandemic to return to their jobs as the work becomes available again.
To ensure hotel workers are included in the economic recovery, the report recommends the federal government:
- Design the CRHP so that it is directed to employers who rehire their staff before hiring outside replacements;
- Expand CEWS clawbacks to cover private employers who use mass pandemic firings to replace and undermine workers economic security, and
- Work with provinces to explore worker recall protections for workers who experienced job loss due to the pandemic.