Ireland reels from mounting coronavirus job losses

When the Irish economy hit the rocks during the financial crisis over a decade ago, Jim Lahiff felt “really lucky” to keep the night porter position he has held since 1984. But any illusions that he could overcome the coronavirus pandemic has been wiped out. when the hotel in the south-eastern town of Wexford closed last Friday.

“In the accident, we cut wages and managed to get through without being laid off,” said Lahiff. But the slowdown in the coronavirus was as brutal as it was severe. Many workers will find it difficult to cope with a weekly social allowance from the government, he added. “It is not substantial enough for many people, especially with families. It just won’t cut it. ”

Lahiff’s experience echoes that of hundreds of thousands of Irish workers, still recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis, and millions more worldwide.

With social distancing measures hitting some of the most labor-intensive and low-wage parts of the service sector harder, economists predict a dramatic spike in global unemployment.

Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF, warned this week that the world was facing a recession “at least as severe as during the global financial crisis or worse”. In the worst-case scenario put forward by the International Labor Organization, almost 25 million people around the world could lose their jobs. This compares to 22 million job losses during a 2008 crisis that unfolded over a much longer period.

Job losses materialize quickly. According to data released Thursday, almost 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week – four times more than ever. Germany expects 2.4 million people to use public funds as part of its Kurzarbeit program, which subsidizes the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs, up from 1.4 million at the height of the post-crisis recession.

Just last month, Ireland was in full employment with an unemployment rate of 4.8% and around 2.36 million people at work.

He is now facing the elimination, in a few weeks, of the number of jobs that were won over several years during the rebound of the last crisis. “Ireland has created around 330,000 jobs in the past five years. Some of our early estimates suggest that between 250,000 and 350,000 people will be out of work as a result of the Covid epidemic, “said Neil Gibson, economist at EY Ireland.

Job losses in coronaviruses have multiplied at breakneck speed: 20,000 private jobs in daycare centers were lost when the government closed schools; 50,000 jobs in bars when pubs close; 70,000 restaurant jobs in the closure of this sector this week. An additional 200,000 losses are feared in the retail trade as spending on non-essential items dries up.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Wednesday. Government could pay 70 percent of wages in private companies © Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times / PA

As part of a job protection program unveiled this week, the government could pay 70 percent of wages in private companies affected by the pandemic. The proposal, according to government estimates, could cost the state 3.7 billion euros over the next 12 weeks.

“We have experienced a tsunami of temporary layoffs from the start and unfortunately this is not going to improve. it will only get worse, “said John Douglas, head of the Mandate union for retailers and bar workers.

And in the struggling industries that pretty much survived the last crash, the losses were immediate. Paul Fitzpatrick, a reporter for a regional Cavan county newspaper published since 1846, was laid off last week. “I thought it would be tight but not that,” he said.

“The company has done well to maintain our jobs over the years. The industry has been struggling, especially local newspapers, for so long that you have been immune to it. We thought we were above the worst. “

The slowdown was a shock to Dalata, the country’s largest hotel group, with 44 locations in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Just a month ago, Pat McCann, CEO and founder, said there has been “no material impact” to date on its business since Covid-19. Now, McCann has already laid off “in half or about half” of the company’s 5,000 workers. “Unfortunately, we had to let go of a significant number of people,” he said. “Everything was going relatively well until Italy was hit. Then we saw the very sudden decline almost overnight. “

A veteran of the hospitality industry for five decades, McCann said he had never seen such a serious crisis. “It’s the worst of a mile, absolutely. It’s like a combination of September 11 and the financial crash – its suddenness in many ways and the uncertainty of how long it will last, ”he said.

Tim Herlihy, house manager at a hotel in the city of Cork, in the south of the country, was put in under three days after a sharp drop in activity. “In one week, everything collapsed. . . You can’t blame the employer, ”he said.

“I’m going to have to go to the bank to get a mortgage break. I’ll have to sign up for social assistance for the first time in 38 years – and we’ll have to watch what we buy week by week until we go out on the other side. “

Editor’s note

Ireland reels from mounting coronavirus job losses 2

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