B.C. hotel workers launch fast for threatened jobs

Hotel workers afraid they’ll never get back to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic began a hunger strike Monday at the legislature, with an initial group of 10 people fasting to bring attention to their concerns.

Twenty more people are lined up to take part in the Fast for Our Jobs next week.

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“Some of the hunger strikers are starting with a few days and they might remain for as long as their bodies can handle this,” said Zailda Chan, president of Unite Here Local 40. “As the weeks unfold, we will have more people join us.”

Participants will be taking in only water, she said.

Chan said some of the fasters will be meeting with Labour Minister Harry Bains over the next few days.

Naden Abenes, a room attendant at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency, said she is fasting for five days to ensure she gets her job of 12 years back.

She said she eased into the process by doing things such as eating smaller meals, and started her fast early. Monday was her fourth day, she said.

“I really feel the discomfort now,” she said.

Abenes said the fast has also made her more emotional than usual and is affecting the way she thinks. “It’s just overwhelming. It’s just really hit me.”

Hotel workers belonging to Unite Here Local 40 were also at the legislature in July to call for a legal right to return to jobs after being laid off due to COVID.

“Since the last time we were here we have continued our efforts to call on the government to do the right thing,” Chan said.

Some workers have already received permanent layoff notices, she said.

She said the tourism sector is asking for a $680-million bailout from B.C., but hotel workers are not being guaranteed of getting their employment back.

“Fifty thousand jobs are on the line.”

A provincial review of the issues has been announced, but no decisions have been made, Chan said.

Bains has appointed labour lawyer Sandra Banister to look at the layoff and recall of hotel-sector workers in relation to COVID-19. Her report will be completed by Aug. 20.

“As this situation worsens, that’s why we are resorting to an open-ended hunger strike,” Chan said. “Having the right to go back to your job is essential for our survival, and so these hunger strikers are willing to forgo eating for the government to act immediately.”

She said workers realize the economy could take a year to two to recover.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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