Joyce Garant has worked since she was 15 years old.
Her first job was as a hostess for McDonald’s before she became a dress store manager. Then in 1987, she was hired at the Hudson’s Bay in her hometown of Windsor, Ont.
“I’ve always had a job,” she said. “Even when I had my son, back then you only got 16 weeks and I went back early.”
But in the span of the last 13 months, Garant has been laid off three times — including last month when she was among the 84,000 retail workers to lose their job.
Statistics Canada said Friday the economy lost 207,000 jobs in April as a new surge in COVID-19 infections led to renewed public health measures that closed businesses.
The retail sector was hit hardest, with stricter restrictions on the operation of non-essential stores implemented in Ontario, Alberta and several regions of Quebec, according to the national statistics gathering agency.
Among those who lost their job was Garant. The beauty adviser for Clinique makeup and skincare at Hudson’s Bay department store has been laid off with each wave of COVID-19.
“Financially it’s been really rough,” she said. “I pushed back my mortgage and car payments, which in the end will cost me more in interest, and then I started to resort to using credit cards to pay hydro and gas until the money came in.”
While Garant said she’s lucky — the Bay continued to pay her medical benefits throughout her layoffs — she said she faced long delays obtaining employment insurance, deepening her credit card debt.
The 57-year-old retail worker said she was still paying off debt from her second layoff when she was laid off a third time in April.
“We just got back up and running and then we have shut down again,” Garant said. “You get behind on things and it’s stressful. I just wonder, ‘Will I ever have the money to pay bills? Am I ever going to get out of the hole?’”
She said it’s frustrating that the restrictions don’t allow her to work and yet customers can buy the same cosmetics and skin care products at drugstores, which remain open for business.
“It’s really unfair,” Garant said. “People can go into a drugstore and buy my product but I can’t physically sell it.”
The retail veteran said she’ll be going back to work on Monday to do telephone sales.
“I work on a clientele basis, so I’ll be calling them to see if they need anything,” she said.
Michelle Wasylyshen, a spokeswoman with the Retail Council of Canada, said it’s not surprising that retail employment fell 3.8 per cent in April — far outpacing the overall drop in employment of 1.1 per cent.
“Non-essential retailers continue to be severely affected by shutdowns and lockdowns,” she said in an emailed statement. “In Ontario alone, non-essential retailers in some parts of the province have now been closed for a staggering 191 days since the beginning of the pandemic.”
With reduced sales, very little cash on hand and mounting debt, Wasylyshen said retailers have had to deal with unsold inventory while still buying new merchandise for the spring and summer shopping seasons.
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