"Our whole industry has shut down." 12 women on how their job has been impacted by coronavirus.


On Thursday morning, the World Health Organisation declared the global coronavirus crisis a pandemic.

In a press conference in Geneva, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed alarm about mounting infections and slow government responses.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response,” he said.

“We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

As the virus has been upgraded to a pandemic, workplaces across Australia have begun making plans for the worst-case scenario, with some companies already vacating their offices in favour of working from home.

While many businesses, like Google, have the ability to work remotely in the case of a further outbreak, there are thousands of industries and business that simply don’t have the same luxury.

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For casual workers in particular, the threat of business closures or the worst case scenario of a lockdown – like the current situation in Italy – is incredibly frightening.

For many casual workers, working from home simply isn’t an option. Likewise, the ability to self-isolate due to illness is often financially impossible due to the fact that casual workers are generally not entitled to sick or annual leave.

On Thursday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $23 billion plan to boost the economy in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

As well as providing welfare recipients and pensioners a $750 cheque in order to keep the economy afloat, the government is also focusing on small businesses in an attempt to keep Australians in work.

The entire plan will be fleshed out in a televised address from the Prime Minister on Thursday night.

In the meantime, we spoke to 12 women to find out how the coronavirus is impacting their jobs and their income.

From travel agents and teachers to nurses and fisherman, here’s what they had to say.


“I’m currently working as an assistant in nursing while finishing up my nursing degree. Since the coronavirus outbreak, I have been getting less shifts than usual. While I was getting four or five shifts a week in December, I’m only getting about two shifts a week at the moment.


“Falling ill and not being able to go to work would majorly affect my finances. My risk of contracting the virus is higher because I am in a hospital setting, which means if I am put into isolation, I will also have to miss university which will put me at risk of failing the course. My limited savings wouldn’t cover bills, rent, or grocery shopping.

“At the moment, I am unable to receive Centrelink due to my relationship status, so it would mean I would have to dip into those limited savings and rely on my partner to cover any costs. Isolation would have a huge financial effect for me.”


“We’re based in country Western Australia and I’m a casual at a daycare centre. It’s the second income for our family. While my husband’s wage covers rent, food and bills, my wage is for saving for a house deposit. Without me working, we can’t save.

“Our centre has given families a fact sheet on the coronavirus but there has been no other impact so far. If we were to close, we would be able to survive on my husband’s government job but every dollar would need to be watched and we would be only able to buy the absolute necessities.”


“I’m a travel agent. I get paid when people book holidays but it’s also deducted when they cancel. Just like any sales role, a lot of travel agencies work on commission, which means we get paid different percentages depending on what customers book. If they cancel, we have to refund the price they’ve paid, including the commission (subject to terms and conditions of course) which means in some circumstances we have what was already paid taken back off us.


“At the moment, less people are booking travel, which means less commission. A lot of people are also cancelling or looking at cancelling which means even less commission. There’s also a lot of work being done for free to review all of these policies.

“We’re copping the brunt of everyone being pissed off that travel insurance doesn’t cover anything epidemic/pandemic/coronavirus related so people are understandably pissed that they’re not getting their money back.

“People who’ve been in the industry for a long time have said that this is the worst it’s ever been. Worse than SARS. Worse than September 11. I’m obviously concerned for my customers and empathise but I’m less worried about getting sick and even more worried about how I’ll pay my bills.”


“I live in Hong Kong and my husband and I have had to work from home since January. I work in health for a NGO which is so tricky as I have to do consults via FaceTime and give advice via WhatsApp. We were running out of supplies and trying to get urgent items to mothers and babies along with the coordination of check ups/appointments which were cancelled.

“Overall it has been tough. We have a two-year-old too, so we’re all hanging out together in a 700 square foot apartment. All children’s activities including parks (which are roped off!) and schools are closed. Lots of people are relocating. Lots of job losses and businesses closing. It’s hard going but we’re getting there.”


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“I live in Tasmania and I have worked casually in the arts for 15 years. It is my only source of income.

“Large scale arts events have started to be cancelled here, around the country and around the world. We fear that means a lot more cancellations to come over the coming months.

“I am very concerned for my income as there are not many permanent work options for arts workers in our state, but most of us pick up enough hours a month to fall just outside of government benefit thresholds. It is a very worrying position for myself and my arts industry colleagues at this point. At the moment, I’m worried my income will stop completely.”


“As commercial fisherman (we fish in waters off the West Coast on Tasmania), our whole industry has shut down. We have no income at all and there is no solution in sight either. It’s devastating.

“We stopped working just before the Chinese New Year, which is usually a huge time with all the celebrations in China. There is no end in sight for us because the Chinese market has virtually stopped.”


“I work in a cancer care centre with extremely immunocompromised patients. We are being extra cautious and there are scary and confronting signs everywhere warning us all about hand hygiene and overseas travel. It’s mostly that our beautiful patients are terrified out of their minds. Everyone is on edge. The doctors are doing clinic appointments via phone which is hard, as telling someone their cancer has relapsed without seeing their face is awful.


“To make matters worse, staff have been stealing hand sanitiser and masks, which means our stocks are dwindling. We need them for every patient and there are grave concerns we will run out of stock.”


“I’m a travel agent. We’ll be lucky if we still exist after this.

“I have been in the industry since 2007 and I have never seen such a drastic change. New bookings have quietened down, but the workload of agents has increased with people contacting them to find out what would happen if they were to cancel or postpone their arrangements. Some of these people are not travelling for another six months and who knows where things will be by then.

“Businesses are having to reduce staff hours as the bookings are not coming in to cover the cost of wages, but staff workloads have increased with the large quantities of inquiries they are getting. We had three full time and one part time consultant in our office, and in the last fortnight this has been reduced to three part time employees. We have no idea what money will be coming in, but what was forecast has dropped by 50-60 per cent.


“As travel agents, we love the industry and are all incredibly involved in our work. This situation is hurting all of us not only in commissions but also mentally and emotionally. They are dealing with clients daily who are coming to them with such a large amount of fear, most of it which has been created by the media. Clients have a right to be concerned, there is so much unknown with this. They are showing anger towards the staff because they are being hit with cancellation fees that they don’t think they should pay.

“This situation is outside of our control and is changing rapidly. The main concern of our clients is not about whether they will get coronavirus. Instead, they’re worried about whether they need to be quarantined upon their return or what their insurance will cover if they get sick overseas.

“Although there are clients who genuinely appreciate what we do, and understand the situation we are all in – some have been completely horrible. Never have I had staff spoken to the way they have been in the last few weeks. On top of the general concern about the virus itself, staff also have the concern of whether they will have jobs tomorrow.”

Self isolation isn't an option for everyone. Image: Getty.


"I'm a dental nurse. We only have enough masks for 20 days. We are currently stock taking every morning and night to keep an eye on numbers. I’m not sure what management will decide to do. However, they are talking to the insurance company regarding what would happen in the worst case scenario. I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, which I think most people are doing at this time. I love my practice and I hope that everything works out."


"I work in events and we have already had heaps of cancellations. I haven't been financially affected yet but it’s still worrying. If any events are cancelled, we really feel it. Australia has released a statement that events will go on, but Asia is on hold and it’s hurting the company."


"I am a casual relief teacher and I'm currently pregnant. I have been getting more shifts relief teaching than usual – most likely because people are choosing to self quarantine if they are unwell. I am worried about schools closing, as that will mean no more income.


"I'm also concerned about the lack of information on the effect of the virus on pregnant women. I think I'll stop working to take unpaid maternity leave sooner than anticipated if things get worse."


"I'm a school cleaner. Each day I clean 24 toilets plus a urinal, as well as the rest of the school. As cleaners, we are the most likely to catch something. No one – not the media or the government will talk to us about it. Cleaners are more likely to catch something, but we don't get paid anything if we don't work.

"I'm lucky enough to work for a school as an actual full-time casual employee, which lets me take sick days and holidays. Many cleaners, especially shopping centre cleaners, don't get that option. It's all casual work and good luck asking for two weeks off for self isolation. You simply wouldn't have a job to come back to. You're actually damned either way."

Feature Image: Getty.

Names have been changed for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock image.

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