"As the Titanic sank, the band kept playing": The message hospitality workers are sharing.

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 climbs in Australia, it’s not just health authorities responding. Organisations and businesses around the country have been rolling out their own policies and alternative working arrangements to help limit the spread of the virus.

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Many of us in desk jobs have the privilege of being able to scurry home; work-provided laptop under one arm, a box of stationery under the other. Our concerns about our new arrangement extend to how ergonomic our dining chair is or whether we should dip into the snacks we’ve piled high in the pantry — just in case. We duck out to the supermarket, keeping 1.5 metres away from people — just in case — scurry back home and lather with sanitiser. Just in case.

Meanwhile, the barista at the local café is still passing cups directly into hands.

The waiter at the café is still picking up used glasses and cutlery and crockery, and the dishwasher is still scrubbing and drying them.

The bartender is still pulling beers.

The Maître d’ is still guiding people to seats and placing napkins in laps.

The chef is still trying to source ingredients and prepare them for the few customers who still want to come.

Because there’s no such thing as an ‘alternative working arrangement’ for most people in hospitality. While some businesses may be able to switch to takeaway only or reduce opening hours, the alternative for the rest is closing down, putting salaried staff on leave and turning casuals away. Casuals who are numbered in their hundreds of thousands and make up the bulk of the Australian hospitality industry.

With the rock on one side and hard place on the other, hospo workers are sharing a sobering analogy on social media, via statuses and videos and memes. The gist is this:

“If you would like to know how it feels to be in hospitality during the Novel coronavirus pandemic… Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play?

“We’re the band.”


They’re the ones offering the sense of normalcy and comfort in a situation that is precisely the opposite.

They’re catering to coffee habits, Sunday brunches, lunchtime sandwiches, date nights, family birthday dinners, weddings and after-work drinks.

And in between they’re shuffling rosters, crossing off cancelled bookings and watching their daily takings dwindle.

They’re on the sinking ship, watching everyone around them scurry away into lifeboats.

They’ll board last. As we’ve seen via France and Italy and New York, cafes, restaurants and bars are among the final businesses ordered closed during a Government-mandated lockdown. Because of what it means for the throng of casual staff and for local economies.

Until then, Australian hospo workers go off to work knowing they will come into direct — and in some cases close — contact with dozens of people. Hundreds even. Their health and therefore that of their community relies on soap, hand sanitiser and hope that those dozens or hundreds of patrons are keeping just as clean.

Some business will not survive. But those that do will need our support more than ever once the threat has passed.

Goodness knows we’ll need them.

Feature image: Getty. (Restaurant Supervisor May Su stands in the usually crowded award-winning Golden Century Seafood Restaurant in Sydney.)


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