A Jersey-born hospitality worker has opened up about their experience of 'furlough' in an appeal to the island's Government to take action to prevent a mental health crisis among those left out of work by the pandemic.
"In March 2020, I was working in the hospitality sector in the UK.
As public health measures were ramped up and people were discouraged from going out, the hospitality sector was left in the lurch. Unable to close as no official order had been given meaning insurances would not cover losses, the industry limped on for a week.
My shifts were actually cut the last week before closure, something that can happen working in hospitality as work is very much driven by demand. I remember standing at the train station and receiving a message to tell me not to come in.
Pictured: "As public health measures were ramped up and people were discouraged from going out, the hospitality sector was left in the lurch."
I returned home, frustrated but also incredibly worried. My partner was also working in hospitality at the same time, albeit on a slightly more secure contract.
Then we all received the news that the UK would enter lockdown.
Around the same time, a new word had entered the work WhatsApp group. Furlough. Although the strict definition refers to a temporary unpaid leave of absence, it has become a by-word for the job retention scheme in the UK.
I became a furloughed worker and the inside of my flat became my world. At the time I had no idea that it would be three months until I worked again.
Pictured: "I became a furloughed worker and the inside of my flat became my world."
Days and weeks passed, with no word from work about a start date. Waiting and holding out, hearing a rumour from my manager, “maybe next week mate", the sense of limbo, the constant barrage of bad news and a family crisis began to take their toll.
Fast forward to Wednesday’s Government of Jersey press conference. I watched with a sense of shock and unease but also with the overwhelming feeling that we’ve been here before.
Back in March the pandemic went from a distant news item, to growing concern, to something we would all experience within a matter of weeks. The latest hospitality 'circuit breaker' along with other measures takes us right back there - the pandemic has “returned” to Jersey.
I do not make that statement to be flippant. I appreciate that for many they have lived through this year on our island with fear for their own health and wellbeing. They will have also made great efforts to do the right thing and protect those most vulnerable around them.
Pictured: "The pandemic has 'returned' to Jersey."
However, it is very obvious that the actions of a not-that-small group of islanders has led to where we are in recent weeks.
Whilst the need for these latest measures is sadly clear, we have an opportunity to do things a bit differently this time. Namely, people’s mental health.
Of course, focus must be put onto how business and people’s payroll is affected but the consequences of a lockdown to this sector go far beyond that. Whilst it is amazing that a government can step in with schemes to protect jobs and businesses in the short term, I also feel there is a responsibility towards people’s mental health.
The Co-funded Payroll scheme helps. You get “paid to be at home”, yes. You’re also at the same time being told to minimise physical contact with the people who would normally form your support network (friends, family, etc).
Pictured: "You’re also at the same time being told to minimise physical contact with the people who would normally form your support network."
The news media is feeding you new reasons to be worried everyday. You try to be productive at home but those creeping thoughts about job security and those who are considered vulnerable that you know soon take over.
Having been in this situation at the beginning of the year, I totally empathise with those working in the hospitality sector right now. I also appreciate that some workers within the sector will have family and those they normally call on to support elsewhere.
Travel restrictions, quarantine periods and job insecurity all make visits a logistical nightmare. Trust me, I’ve been there earlier in the year and it feeds the beast.
Not to mention that it is the festive period. With many of those working in the sector wishing to celebrate Christmas and businesses gearing up for almost a quarter of their yearly takings, this could not have come at a worse time.
Pictured: "I urge the government and industry leaders in Jersey to take action to prevent a mental health crisis."
I urge the government and industry leaders in Jersey to take action to prevent a mental health crisis. As the ones calling the shots on these latest public health measures, a burden of responsibility does fall at their feet.
Advertise existing services better. Encourage those struggling to seek help if they need it. There are some fantastic facilities and charities out there who can help islanders in these situations.
Whilst this is through the lens of someone who has worked in the hospitality sector, islanders’ individual and collective mental health has taken a battering this year.
An increase in support and awareness will help not only those in the hospitality sector, but every islander who is struggling."