May 2, 2020
Yesterday Samira posted yet another a message on her Telegram channel cutting all of her prices: from noodle soup to halva and sholezard, a saffron rice pudding dessert. She is the head of her household and for many years has earned a living by selling home-cooked meals. Like many others, she has not been spared the financial ruin caused by the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Every other year during Ramadan, I was so busy I didn’t get a chance to sit down,” she says. “People kept ordering sholezard, halva, soups and stews. Many placed orders for parties. This year, though, there is no party. I reduced the prices, but the orders are all for one or two portions, which is not profitable.”
Samira believes that not only are people not throwing parties in response to the outbreak, but they are also hesitant to buy take-away food.
Until mid-February, Samira also held down a job catering for to a private company. “I sent them meals for 10 people and received two million tomans (US$133) a month,” she says. “But now that businesses are closed and people are working from home, I have become unemployed too. They paid my February and March salary and New Year bonus, and apologized and said that the company was currently working on a remote basis. After the remote working, they cut down their workforce and did not call me again.”
Left Out in the Cold
On 20 April 2020, Hossein Mirzaei, a spokesperson for the government’s Coronavirus Support Facility, announced that female heads of households would be given a facility loan of up to two million tomans a month.
The government had previously announced it would provide loans of one million tomans (US$66) to 23 million subsidized families who are facing further hardship due to the outbreak.
Laughing, Samira says, “How can two million tomans help anyone? They have also put the condition on it that if a household has three members, the female head will receive 1.5 million tomans (US$99); if the family has four members, they will receive the two million.”
For her part, Samira divorced her husband a few years ago and has a 10-year-old daughter. “I have to find a job,” she says, “otherwise, God forbid, I’ll have to go back to my parents’ house.”
On Tuesday, 7 April, the government had also announced special facilities for those who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. Deputy minister of labor Hatem Shakarami said: “Employees covered by the Labor Law, who have been laid off due to coronavirus, must apply within one month from the date of unemployment and register with the employment offices.
“People who do not have a job and are not supported by any of the supportive institutions will receive subsidies from the government from 200 to 600 thousand tomans in four periods.”
Samira is one of hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have newly applied for unemployment insurance during the pandemic. But, she says, “I was not insured by the company I worked for. I didn’t have a contract. Everything was arranged orally. I cooked and took my money. Because I have not paid my insurance premiums, I can only receive the four installments. It’s not clear on what basis this is calculated.”
She is far from alone in this predicament. Mahtab, who has been working in a city center cafe for many years and regards the customers of the cafe as her friends, has also lost her job.
Mahtab is widowed and has a 12-year-old son: “I have been working in various cafes since my husband died of cancer four years ago,” she says. “But now a lot of cafes are closed – and ours was one of them.”
Since February 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak was officially announced in Iran, cafes and restaurants across Iran have lost most of their custom and many have since had to close as a result. In Tehran, early casualties have been Tehran Cafe, Lamiz Cafe, Haiku Cafe, Chaharsoo Cafe, and many others besides. Yamin Atashin, the owner of Chaharsoo, was forced to announce the closure of his establishment after 21 years of business online last week. Pictures of locked doors and empty tables and chairs have sparked sadness on social media.
“Do you know how many young people and women heads of households lose their jobs when cafes close?” Mahtab says. “Many people who work in cafes are uninsured and work as shift work or hourly payment. “As a result, they are not entitled to unemployment insurance – just like me.”
Masoud Babaei, head of unemployment benefits at the Ministry Labour, announced this week that between March 13 and April 28, an unprecedented 783,000 people had registered for unemployment benefits. Of which 654,000 have had their applications approved.
Mahtab has decided not to apply. “We don’t have insurance,” she says. “The government assistance will not cure any pain.”
Hanging in the Air
Yoga coach Sara, who has two daughters aged 11 and 14, has also lost her job. She has neither insurance nor any hope in receiving government aid. “Our hope is in God,” she says. “It is better than trusting this government.
“Yesterday, the owner of the club where I taught sent me a text message saying that the club had been closed. Poor guy could not afford to pay the rent. I was hoping that we could go back soon. But now I have to look for work.”
“It’s not clear how many other clubs like ours have been closed – and how many others, like me, have been left hanging in the air.”