Overrepresented in service jobs, Filipinos more likely to have lost work in pandemic

By | September 15, 2020

It’s been nearly six months since Lorna Paragas was robbed of the job she loved, serving coffee with a side of her infectious smile — and she still wakes up every morning like nothing’s changed.

“Every time I wake up 4 o’clock I cried, because for how many years I’ve been working there?” Paragas asks, her eyes red from the tears.

She doesn’t have to wake up as early, but Paragas hasn’t shaken the morning routine she perfected for 11 years, before the pandemic stole her coffee shop job. Now, the Winnipegger sits in the stillness of her apartment before dawn, watching TV because she cannot fall asleep.

Many ethnic groups suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Filipinos, such as Paragas, felt the pain more than most visible minority groups in Canada, statistics show.

WATCH | Lorna Paragas explains the impact of losing her long-time job

Lorna Paragas worked at a coffee shop for 11 years before she was laid off at the height of the pandemic. She hasn’t been invited back to work. 0:24

More than 42 per cent of Filipino Canadians who completed a Statistics Canada questionnaire reported job losses or cut hours, compared to 34 per cent of white people. More than 36,000 people responded to the survey between May 26 and June 8.

The impact is also being felt in Winnipeg. Economist Tyler Markowsky told a city council committee last week that people from the city’s Filipino and West Asian populations, at the height of the lockdown, experienced higher job loss and a greater reduction in hours than white residents.

Diwa Marcelino, who advocates for migrant workers and newcomers with Migrante Manitoba, said Filipinos in the labour force are concentrated in the service sector — an industry that took a beating when people were ordered to stay home whenever possible — and health-care.

“You’ll find Filipinos in a lot of service sector jobs because of this low barrier to entry, and because of the fact that many Filipinos are still supporting their family back home [in the Philippines] because the economy can’t support them,” he said.

Service jobs have ‘low barrier to entry’

Marcelino said first generation arrivals from the Philippines are often armed with skilled credentials when they get to Canada, but cannot find work in their field. He said that leaves many people latching onto jobs in restaurants and retail, where further schooling isn’t required.

The newcomers also prioritize finding work quickly as many of them send remittances to their loved ones back in the Philippines, he said where the economy is floundering. Filipino Canadians sent more money abroad than any other group in 2017, Statistics Canada says.

“It’s really the source of why Filipinos in Canada, for instance, choose to get jobs that will get them a quick turnaround, a quick return on investment, because they have family at home who need food, water, rent,” Marcelino said.

Diwa Marcelino said Filipinos are concentrated in service sector and health-care jobs, which made the community susceptible to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He added that Filipinos locally have pivoted toward work areas that have seen growth, such as grocery stores and the health-care fields.

“Most Filipinos I know have two to three jobs, so they have a plan B and a plan C, and now they’re using that as their advantage,” Marcelino said.

That’s why Paragas has kept working. Before the pandemic, she was a cashier at a grocery store only on weekends. These days, she’s working anywhere from 28-38 hours a week. It’s been a big help to her finances, though she isn’t approaching the 50-hour weeks she had before.

“Right now, I’m earning good,” she said. 

Janice Briones arrived in Canada in 2014 trained as a teacher, but her education wasn’t recognized locally. She picked up various restaurant jobs instead.

“Most of us who came here are professional in my country, and then most of us also send money back home, so when we come here, even the minimum wage jobs, we have to grab it,” she said.

Her experience in restaurants didn’t come in handy when she was suddenly out of work due to the pandemic. 

Janice Briones has made an unplanned career change into health-care after she lost her restaurant job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ian Froese/CBC)

“Most of the restaurants are closed and my resumé is all about restaurants,” said the single mother of two. “It’s really stressful — how can I get a job if most of the restaurants are closed?”

Her family got by financially through the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), while she fired off resumés for a range of jobs. It took awhile, but by August she began working in the health-care sector. She plans to become a medical device reprocessing technician. 

“I feel so good,” Briones said. “When you are on CERB, you get so stressed, you develop anxiety. You don’t know what will happen next.

“I’m glad that the CERB is not yet stopped, but I still have a job.”

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