“[…] I didn’t feel good about my line of work being forced to close, but on a bigger scale, I understood that it was done to protect citizens and to ensure the safety of me and my loved ones. The government had its job to do, and it did what it thought was best at that point in time.
“[…] However, it’s now getting a bit extreme as it’s about nine months since our industry was forced to close, and there was not much compensation [given] to the severely affected persons. I’m honestly in two minds as to how I feel about this situation…”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday persons in Trinidad and Tobago in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we talk to Maxine, a 45-year-old CSR in the HR department of a local gambling company:
How has Covid-19 affected your professional life?
Most importantly, I am not working. My professional life is basically non-existent. Due to the pandemic, my employer was forced to close his business in order to follow the restrictions announced by the government. Some days he gives me a few hours to work when he desperately needs something done, and I do that from home. I feel like my professional skills are not in use.
Socially, I’m getting by fine. I don’t normally socialise a lot throughout the year, so going out for me was a non-issue. I love staying home and sleeping.
Professionally, I feel like this part of my life is going nowhere. Financially, it has been a task. If it wasn’t for the good graces of my employer to assist in any way he could and my family members, I’m unsure as to where I would be right now.
Also, being a part of the church helped, as I was able to get hampers. The government gave the church some thousands of dollars, so they were able to assist persons that needed help.
I also received a hamper from a friend [and] my family assisted by helping with my car payments and paying my rent.
I must say that I was very fortunate during this pandemic, due to the circumstances. I know there may be many persons who would have also not been able to work and had things more difficult. I cannot really complain.
How did being out of work affect you mentally?
At first, it didn’t bother me as much because I didn’t realise how serious this virus was getting. I was a bit glad for the rest and to stay at home. Also, when the government announced that my industry had to be closed, I thought that salaries were still going to be given.
After about a month or two, things started to become a bit difficult financially, as I had bills to keep up with. I needed to get groceries, I needed basic necessities and I needed to provide for my children. I have four children, of which I was only able to get some help from one, as two are still in school and the other was out of a job.
This is when I began worrying about how I was going to make ends meet. However, I told myself: “Come on Maxine, shake up yourself, this is not the end.”
I started asking questions as to a way forward and trying to get some help. I also started brainstorming as to how I could help myself as well, which is where my business idea arose. So, yes I stressed a bit, but I didn’t allow it to consume me.
Can you tell us about your business idea?
Well due to not being able to work, I needed to find ways to earn money, so I decided to start selling things. I had a garage sale in which I did follow all Covid-19 protocols. It was very successful and even lead to persons bringing stuff for me to sell and we would split the earnings.
Everything is going okay, I’m still trying to put things in place to allow it to run smoothly. I basically sell anything.
How did the government help?
The government offered the salary relief grant, food card and rental assistance. I signed up for all three.
The salary relief grant was broken up in two. We got $3,000 for salary relief and $1,500 for a food card, so in all that was $4,500. I applied for that in April and received it in August. Up to date, the rental assistance has not been accessible.
The grant did not last me very long, simply because I had bills to pay and my landlord was pressing me. It lasted approximately two weeks. I was able to buy some groceries, pay rent, which is $2,500 and pay some bills—like the internet, which I believe is a necessity to be kept abreast of everything.
I believe that more could have been done by the government, but in other aspects, not just giving salary grants. Also, it is my opinion that some things were not able to be properly and efficiently accessed by persons who qualified and those who really needed it. So I think that the process could have been more fair and better thought out.
Giving help to each citizen would not have been possible due to the budget, but not even half of the persons that applied for the grant were able to get it. This leaves a gap with a big question mark as to why. Because the persons who would have applied were persons who were working, paying NIS and would be in the system.
When you think about it, it’s really questionable whether or not more could have been done. The government is in charge of taking care of the people because we pay taxes in order to keep the wheel turning.
So when something like a pandemic happens, the government has the responsibility to ensure that the people are taken care of.
What are your concerns for the future due to your financial situation?
My main concern is that I may never get back to where I was headed pre-Covid-19. It may take me twice as long to get back on track financially. Any plans for any type of investment or purchases to elevate myself is now near impossible. It has put me in a potentially high-risk situation financially.
How did you feel about your line of work being forced to close?
I didn’t feel good about my line of work being forced to close, but on a bigger scale, I understood that it was done to protect citizens and to ensure the safety of me and my loved ones.
The government had its job to do, and it did what it thought was best at that point in time. Though this did not benefit me on a financial level, I knew that it was beneficial to me in many other ways.
However, it’s now getting a bit extreme as it’s about nine months since our industry was forced to close, and there was not much compensation [given] to the severely affected persons. I’m honestly in two minds as to how I feel about this situation.
How did your employer deal with the situation? Were there any measures put in place for employees?
Well, there was not much that my employer could have done as the business was basically forced to close on very short notice. However, I think they tried to make the best of the situation.
We received our usual salary up until April. I can’t speak for others, but I asked about any possible monetary help that could be given to me due to my situation. In the month of May, I was given what you can call a stipend—I received a percentage of my salary, even though I wasn’t working.
I also found out that they helped others with food baskets. However, I didn’t receive that because I didn’t know that was being shared. They also had a hotline for all employees to call if any assistance was needed.
What do you think 2021 will be like?
I believe 2021 will basically be the same. All Covid-19 protocols will still have to be adhered to and persons still have to be cautious, as the country tries to get back to a sense of normalcy.
I’m unsure as to the direction of my industry. However, they have to open up the economy at some point to try to revitalise and rejuvenate it, else we may end up in major economical problems.
I think that more laws may be passed especially pertaining to those persons who are destined to throw parties etc, because these actions are big risks.
Even though carnival was cancelled, I think that depending on our development, we will be able to have carnival later on in the year. However, I’m unsure as to how they are going to organise this. I cannot fathom trying to control masses of persons all at once.
I think that by 2021, the vaccine would be available. Most likely, the 2021 budget will include an increase in taxes in order to purchase it and get it here.
What has been most frustrating about life during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The fact I’ve lost my monthly income. Also, we have to stay home and can’t go anywhere unnecessary.
Even though my routine prior to Covid-19 was basically work and home, obviously sometimes you may want to visit the mall and so on. But Covid-19 has now put a stop to that as I try my best to stay away from any possible exposure.
Most business places used the pandemic as an excuse to have persons work on a reduced salary, which I don’t quite agree with.
Another thing is that the government is not doing their best to ensure that everyone gets their salary relief grant. You’ve lost your income, you can’t work, you’re home all day and you’re afraid of going anywhere as you always have to be very cautious. Meanwhile, all government workers are still getting their full salary.
Additionally, the borders are closed, therefore, some of my loved ones are unable to come home. And if something happens to them, I’m now unable to get there.
Is there anything you find encouraging about life in the pandemic?
I’ve always been an optimistic person. I have faith in the universe, that anything I want, I can get and anything I believe and conceive, I will receive. But more so, it thought me to be still. I believe that everything happens for a reason.
This pandemic definitely has shown me that there are certain things that I can do without. We can live a simple yet effective life. It pushed me to start something that I’ve always planned but let procrastination get in the way, which is to open a business.
Whenever something happens, instead of asking why, I would ask what is this trying to teach me. So that’s the approach I took with the pandemic.
This pandemic showed me that I can live within my means and still be able to get by, and also to be grateful. It was also an eye-opener as to how others get by no matter their situation.