Algarve’s “longest winter”: unemployment skyrockets over 200% amid coronavirus crisis

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the Algarve skyrocketed to nearly 28,000 people in May, a 202% year-on-year increase. The hotel sector, which has been hit the hardest, is “desperate” for holidaymakers as the region tries to recover from the devastating effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on its economy.

As national news agency Lusaexplains, thousands of people who would normally be hired for this summer season have been left without a job, while others were let go during their trial periods.

“It is a complicated situation. Unemployment numbers are very high and worrying. In February, nobody would have believed this would happen, as the economy was becoming more and more dynamic, with employment rising,” says Madalena Feu, head of the Algarve’s employment and professional training institute (IEFP).

The region’s number of unemployed has been growing since the pandemic arrived in Portugal, with 21,363 in March, 26,379 in April and 27,675 in May.

Around 28% of the unemployed are foreigners, mostly Brazilians, Indians and Nepalese who worked in the region’s agriculture and hotel sectors.

The Tivoli hotel group, for example, is employing around 500 people at its six units in the Algarve, around half of its usual workforce for the summer, the group’s regional director Jorge Beldade told Lusanews agency.

Before the pandemic reached Portugal in March, the group was planning to hire around 350 people. Only 89 ended up being hired, as hotels started closing and most employees were placed under the government’s ‘lay-off’ regime.

Elidérico Viegas, president of the Algarve hoteliers association (AHETA), says this summer will be like a continuation of the “low season” for the sector.

“The effect this will have on companies’ revenue and employment is unquestionable and an unavoidable reality,” he told Lusa.

Viegas also expects the region to take another hit in September when summer holidaymakers stop trickling in.

Albufeira Mayor José Carlos Rolo is also worried about the pandemic’s effects and warns it will take some time for the region to recover.

“In the winter, people won’t naturally travel to ‘sun and beach’ destinations,” he told Lusa.

Apart from the multiple hotels that are closed, Carlos Rolo also says many businesses have opened only to close shortly after due to a “lack of clientele”.

In fact, many of the people who became unemployed have had no choice but to ask for help from local institutions such as MAPS, whose president Fábio Simão believes the worst is still to come and that the most serious effects of the crisis will only be felt in September and October.