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Jobs disappear in taxi, restaurant industries

Covid-19 has caused massive unemployment among taxi drivers and the restaurant trade, industry figures said yesterday.

David Frost, the president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners Association, said almost 600 taxi drivers were off the road because of the pandemic.

Mr Frost added: “I don't think anyone has seen anything like this before.

“Even if we were to go on strike, we wouldn't have this number of drivers off the road.”

He said that even if the shelter-in-place regulations were lifted soon, the effect of the pandemic on the taxi business would be felt for months.

Mr Frost explained: “We are looking at the summer being lost.

“We have gotten more cruise ships cancelled in the last few days. If we don't have cruise ships, hotels or people wanting to go out to shop, we have almost nothing.”

He added: “Hopefully, drivers have saved up for a rainy day.”

Mr Frost said most drivers had applied for unemployment benefits, but that some had other sources of income that helped them stay afloat.

He added that a handful of drivers had been given permission from the Bermuda Police Service to work, primarily to help those with medical problems.

Mr Frost said: “We have a few people who are still driving, taking people to dialysis or the hospital. One of the dispatchers, Island Taxi, is working from home with about a half-dozen drivers on call to help those individuals.

“Those who are driving are taking all possible precautions and they have not only to protect themselves but the people they are picking up because they are vulnerable.”

Philip Barnett, the president of the Island Restaurant Group, said more than 95 per cent of people in the industry were out of work because of the pandemic.

He said: “When all our colleagues can return to work is indeed the desperate question and, unfortunately, there is no clear indication yet as to a timeline.

“The reality is that our ability to bring back all our staff is entirely dependent on how quickly we can return to a new normal.”

Mr Barnett said a study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that restaurateurs said their businesses had a 72 per cent chance of survival if the crisis lasted a month, but only a 30 per cent chance of survival if it lasted four months.

He added: “Speaking to colleagues locally, they all believe Bermuda is in the same boat.

“Reopening is also fraught with issues as to how to make our business model work based on what will be a new, changed way of dining out.

“Our industry's current business model, which already had exceedingly slim profit margins in the best of times, is now going to be massively challenged as Bermuda and the world starts to creep out from under the 24-hour curfew.”

Mr Barnett said restaurants needed a “critical mass” of customers to pay expenses such as wages, rent, utilities and supplies.

He said: “Fixed costs going out will have to adjust with the new reality of limited income coming in.”

Mr Barnett warned: “Restaurants are a keystone species in the Bermuda economic ecosystem.

“If we fall, it will create a domino effect rippling across all other dependent businesses and entities.”

Lovitta Foggo, the labour minister, said the Government had been “flooded” with applications for unemployment relief since March 25.

Ms Foggo said on Monday that the department had received 9,108 applications and $7.7 million had been paid out so far.

The numbers to call to claim emergency unemployment benefits are 707-5438, 707-5439, 707-5440, 707-5442, 707-5443 and 707-5445.

Assistance is also available by e-mail to unemployment

Taxi drivers are among many in the service industry who are suffering from lost income (File photograph)

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Published April 22, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2020 at 7:46 am)

Jobs disappear in taxi, restaurant industries

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