Covid-19: Algarve hospitality workers count life’s work

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Workers who have lost their jobs or are ‘lay-off’ in the hotel industry in the Algarve fear staying out of work for a long period, given the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of hotel units in the region.

With the forecast of the suspension of the activity of more than 70% of hotels and tourist resorts during the low season due to the pandemic, pointed out by the largest association of the sector in the Algarve, some workers expressed to the Lusa agency the uncertainty about the future with the worsening economic situation.

The beginning of the covid-19 pandemic in March coincided with the start of hiring for the tourist season and thousands of people were not even hired, while others were laid off during the trial period.

“The despair is immense and it is beginning to increase with the uncertainty of a job and a stable minimum income,” she told Lusa Sandra Silva’s report, outside the Portimão Employment and Professional Training Institute (IEFP).

With two younger children, Sandra Silva, 34, said she had been “thrown out of work” at the end of her three-month contract – in August, September and October – at a hotel in the western Algarve.

“I have been a seasonal worker for seven years, with contracts ranging from six to eight months. This year, I only got a three-month contract. I don’t know what the future will be like, neither mine nor my children’s”, she lamented.

In contrast to previous years, this year there has been little movement at the IEFP in Portimão at the end of the so-called high tourist season, with many people looking not for unemployment benefit but for a job that will guarantee them financial support.

Hotel staff
Hotel staff has big concerns

This is the case of Fernando Carlos, 46, in lay-off after 15 years working in a restaurant in a hotel unit and who turned to the IEFP “in the expectation of finding another job to compensate for the loss of monthly income”.

“I have a family to support and the money I receive is insufficient to pay all the expenses”, he pointed out.

A few metres away, Dora, a 31 year old Ukrainian woman, was waiting to be taken care of after losing her job in a pastry shop in Portimão, after the owner closed the shop claiming “there were no customers”.

“For two years she had been working there with four other people, but at the beginning of November the boss unfortunately decided to close down and ‘send’ everyone out of work, because he had few clients”, lamented the young mother of a five-year-old son.

With no prospect of the reopening and normal operation of most hotels in the Algarve – most of which are located in Portimão and Albufeira – the recovery of jobs in the tourism sector “is unpredictable”.

Contacted by Lusa, two of the largest hotel groups operating in the region, owners of several hotels, said that “services have been reduced to a minimum, given the decline in the sector”.

According to Pedro Lopes, of the Pestana Group, of the eight hotels, three inns and five golf courses of the group in the Algarve, only “one hotel and the inns will remain in operation, without a date for the reopening of the other units”.

“Those units will remain in operation, but the situation is variable. Today they are, but tomorrow they may not be”, he advanced.

According to him, the Pestana Group, with around 500 employees on a permanent basis, “this year it did not hire for the summer, using the mobility of employees within the group, unlike other years when around 300 hires were made at the peak of the high season”.

“This year we have drawn on colleagues from other parts of the country. Therefore, as we did not hire anyone, we did not send anyone out of work either. One contract or another may not be renewed now, but it happens throughout the year”, he pointed out.

For his part, Jorge Beldade, regional director of operations for the Tivoli Group, told Lusa that of the six hotels that the hotel chain has in the Algarve, only half will remain in operation.

“We will keep three hotels in operation, but everything will depend on the restrictions due to the pandemic. Some more hotels are likely to close or others may reopen in winter”, he stressed.

As for the staff, Jorge Beldade said that “there will be no lay-offs”, although some are expected to remain ‘lay-off’. In a normal summer, Tivoli Hotels & Resorts has around 1,000 people working in the region.

Faced with falling employment and an increase in the number of unemployed, there has been an increase in applications for social assistance to local authorities to cover expenditure on housing and food rents.

According to data made available by the Portimão Chamber of Commerce, in September and October, 21 new subsidies were granted to support the renting of a total of 213 active cases in the municipality, 18 social water tariffs (555 active cases) and 20 subsidies to support the purchase of medication (102 active cases).

According to that municipality in the district of Faro, the social aid also extends to the delivery of confectioned meals and baskets of non-perishable and fresh products, with an average of 745 units being distributed to households through various institutions until October.

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