Europe’s Employment Aid Keeps Jobs from Vanishing — for Now 

Christian Etchebest’s Parisian bistro is a shadow of its usual bustling self. Five lunch specials sit in neat paper bags on the bar awaiting takeout customers — a tiny fraction of his normal midday business before the coronavirus. A skeleton staff rotates in daily at La Cantine du Troquet near the banks of the Seine River, just blocks from the Eiffel Tower. One day they packaged a streamlined version of his Basque menu: sausages with a celery and beetroot remoulade, mashed potatoes and a dessert of strawberries with lemon sauce. Yet Etchebest isn’t facing bankruptcy — not yet anyway — thanks to a French government program that lets him put staff on reduced hours and makes up most of their lost salary, on the condition they are not fired. That is giving him a chance to keep his team together, awaiting the day when restrictions are lifted and sit-down meals are again allowed at this restaurant and his six others across Paris.  Similar programs are keeping hard-hit businesses across Europe afloat, preventing millions of workers from losing their jobs  and income for now, and thousands of bosses from seeing their trained staff scatter. Some 11.3 million workers in France are getting up to 84% of net salary. The government estimates the cost at 24 billion euros ($26 billion), with half of all private sector employees expected to take part. FILE – Femke Zimmerman, manager of Brasserie Berlage, a cafe and restaurant nestled in the manicured gardens of The Hague’s historic art deco Kunstmuseum, poses for a portrait as she prepares the restaurant for reopening, April 24, 2020.Femke Zimmermann, manager of Brasserie Berlage in The Hague in the Netherlands, has her eye on re-opening even as she spends most days at home looking after her 1-year-old and 5-year-old sons while the restaurant’s owners pay her with government help.  For now, she is not overly worried about losing her job. She stays in contact with her team and asked them to come in to give the restaurant a two-day spring clean.  “They hate sitting at home. They want to do something for the business,” she said. Athens waiter George Sakkas, 26, is getting by on a Greek government program that lets businesses suspend workers’ contracts and replaces their pay with a flat stipend of 800 euros ($870). Businesses that take the help cannot fire staff.  “The stipend definitely helped,” he said, noting the amount was roughly what he would make anyway.  “In the beginning we didn’t know about the stipend, so [the closing] hit us very badly,” he said. “When the stipend arrived it gave us some breathing space.” 

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