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‘I lost my job as a bartender because of coronavirus’: UK restaurant workers speak out as emergency fund is launched



LifestyleFood and Drink

Industry charity Hospitality Action says staff need money now

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 4:38 pm

Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 4:38 pmRestaurants are empty (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Alan*, who moved to London from Montenegro aged 10, spent 14 years as a bartender at The Dorchester, catering for lavish private events such as charity dinners and awards shows.

But last week he was one of hundreds of hospitality professionals who found themselves out of work as restaurants, bars, and hotels suffer a dramatic fall in custom.

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Workers need help

“I was told last week the events would be stopping, so there is no more work,” he told i.

“I’m not sure if this will last weeks or months. I don’t know anything. I was on a zero hours contract so I haven’t been given any money – I just have what I was paid for the month.

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do now. I’m looking for work, but where? Everything is shutting down. I have rent to pay. It is a terrible time.”

The UK hospitality trade is suffering like never before (Photo: Getty)

There was confusion in the industry after the Government discouraged the public from visiting communal spaces such as pubs and restaurants, but stopped short of a total lock-down.

It has left thousands of businesses in limbo, unsure whether to close and unable to pay staff. Few will be able to claim on insurance, such is the rarity of a pandemic.

No rent holiday

“Yesterday I had to tell my staff that very soon I won’t be able to pay them and they might not have a job any more,” said chef Tom Brown, from Cornerstone restaurant in London.

“My team, like millions of hospitality workers out there, can’t simply work from home. I refuse to sit back and watch them be overlooked. The government needs to do more.”

On Tuesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £330bn fund to offer loans to businesses which are suffering losses as Covid-19 takes hold.

But these loans, even at low interest, don’t provide restaurateurs with much assurance because the country is entering a period of undefined length during which few people will go out to eat and drink.

Emergency

There are also worries about how long it might take for money to filter through, and nearly all hospitality businesses sit well above the £51,000 rateable value threshold which would enable owners to apply for a £25,000 grant.

“The latest government advice which discourages the public from visiting hospitality outlets has triggered an unprecedented crisis, which puts many thousands of livelihoods at immediate risk,” said an announcement on Wednesday.

Chief executive Mark Lewis added: “While we welcome the government’s recent announcements around a degree of support for business, the reality for many in the industry today is bleak with huge numbers of people facing a reduction in their working hours or a sudden and complete loss of income.

“Many hospitality workers who have lost all or much of their income, are tenants and don’t have the means to pay rent while waiting for benefits claims to be processed.”