LETTER: Reopening rules for barbers and stylists place workers and clients in jeopardy

Dear editor,

I am a barber in Victoria and, though I am very much looking forward to the day I go back to work and see my friends and customers again, I am very concerned about how the announcement of return is being handled.

Why can a barber or stylist be within six feet of another person, while other businesses like restaurants are spending thousands on new ways to operate to keep everyone six feet apart? This is a question that has been avoided and absolutely needs to be addressed before business owners can even begin to understand what they need to do before they reopen to the public.

Dr. Bonnie Henry needs to address this and the 6,000-strong signed petition from barbers and stylists asking to be in phase three with spa and non-medical massage services.

Please understand, I want to go back to work. But I will not be a test run. I fear that the only response to this will be to avoid answering the question directly again, only to talk about possibly having less people in the barbershop or salon at a time, or to not have a waiting area, or to put up Plexiglas screens at the till. But what does it matter that a person safely pays with tap from behind a barrier if I have just spent an hour touching their face?

These rules need clarification for a reason. People have been hanging on every statement made, including myself. Already I see people in my neighborhood having large backyard barbecues, etc. because people will take a mile when given an inch. But at the very least, I see people doing this while attempting to keep distance from one another.

I know that I can and will do the best to keep my clients safe, but there is no way for me to operate my business from six feet away. Period. In fact there will be many moments my face will be inches from theirs. How has this not been addressed?

And whether you personally feel that the risk is low or not, how is the public going to react to dealing with high levels of restrictions at one establishment and the opposite at another? For example, my barbershop is right next to a restaurant, a restaurant that is not known for its takeout food and has been really struggling through this time. They are excited to come back and are completely changing the way they do business in order to maintain physical distancing. Meanwhile, I’m next door in the front window trimming someone’s nose hairs. I don’t care if I’m wearing three face masks, this isn’t a good look. And stylists will be part of the reason people don’t take any of this seriously anymore, even if that is absolutely not our intention.

I have been in touch with WorkSafeBC and they have no answers for me, and both of the two people I have spoken to there completely agree with me about my concerns.

All I see from people in my industry is pure panic. No one understands what is expected of them and they only have days to prepare. How are we supposed to arm ourselves and provide our customers with appropriate PPE while these things are still largely unattainable?

Why did we find out about not being in phase three at the same time as our customers watching online? Our phones have been ringing off the hook and we are now in the unprofessional position of providing no answers for them.

And if it comes down to the suggestion, once again, that, “if a business owner is not comfortable opening up, then they don’t have to,” where is the accountability for people like me who want to work? This is a highly competitive industry. Please think about this; if a restaurant was to open a week or two or longer after most other restaurants, that would be costly, but it wouldn’t stop customers from ever going to that restaurant again. However, if a barbershop or salon doesn’t open its doors to customers and others do, those customers will go to another shop and they may never come back again.

Please help us have answers. Please don’t ignore the petition of people sharing these concerns.

Kane McHugh

Victoria

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