Jobless and desperate: Post-lockdown reality for many

PARIS (AFP) – Many workers’ lives have been abruptly upended by the coronavirus pandemic, as job losses in tourism, air travel, food and drink or other industries hit those both on fixed contracts and in the informal sector.

From employees making a comfortable living, to others just scraping by, people around the world are confronting anxiety over how to feed their families and shame at being forced to seek handouts amid growing poverty.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that world gross domestic product (GDP) is set to plunge 4.9 per cent this year from the crisis sparked by the global pandemic, and warns that low-income households and unskilled workers are most affected.

AFP met people in France, Mexico, Ukraine, Spain, Colombia and the United States (US), who already are, or fear they soon will be, without work and spoke of their despair, sacrifices, dashed hopes and fears for the future.

“I’ve slipped into a state of insecurity,” said Frenchman Xavier Chergui, 44, who for 10 years has been a temp maitre d’, filling in at Paris restaurants when they were short staffed.

The married, father of two made a monthly EUR1,800-2,600 (USD2,062-2,978), and in a really good month could sometimes earn EUR4,000. But as soon as France locked down, the work stopped and the family is surviving on state aid of EUR875.

He hasn’t been able to meet his monthly rent of EUR950 since March, nor the electricity bill for three months.

Although he’s managed to keep up his EUR250 car loan repayments, the family’s holiday in the south west is now off the cards, he said.

“We’ve lost everything… Psychologically you have to cope with it,” he told AFP.

But his wife is suffering from depression and he is just holding out for September when he hopes business will resume – virus permitting.

With dreams of becoming a pilot, 26-year-old Colombian Roger Ordonez had been working as a flight attendant for Avianca since 2017 but studying to get his wings.

“You get used to a certain lifestyle because you have a good salary and you can travel,” he said.

He’s visited various countries in the region and the US in recent years and took his family for their first trip abroad.

At the end of March, at the airline’s request, he agreed to take two weeks’ unpaid leave, which was then extended.

Two months later, he learned that his temporary contract would not be renewed after it ended on June 30.

In the meantime, Avianca filed for bankruptcy.

Ordonez has had to abandon his pilot studies and can no longer help his family out with the bills.

“I’ve looked for work but it’s difficult because my sector is tourism and it’s the most affected by COVID-19,” he said.

He’s thinking of retraining, perhaps in management, trade or sales, he said.

To fill the fridge and feed her student son, daughter and grandson, Sonia Herrera has no choice but to rely on the food bank.

“It makes me a bit ashamed to ask for help,” the 52-year-old Honduran, who lives in the Spanish capital, said.

People look, and there’s the guilt of wondering if “maybe others need it more”, she added.

As a domestic worker, she earned a monthly EUR480 until her employers in central Madrid let her go, the day after Spain’s lockdown began.

As an undocumented migrant, she cannot claim state aid.

The whole family lives on about EUR600 in unemployment benefit that her daughter Alejandra, 32, receives after losing her job as a cook in a nursery which had to close during confinement.

With a few savings too, they scrape by.

But little pleasures “that you notice when you lose them”, such as occasionally going out for an ice cream, are gone and their cat Bella’s operation had to be put back.

“The end of the month scares me more than the virus. You have to eat after all,” Herrera said.