What the lockdown feels like for cross-border workers

  • employee
Published 2020-05-06 10:31

Since the border closures, the day to day life of a lot of cross-border workers has changed. Florian and Tamime are French and work respectively in Luxembourg and Switzerland. We ask them about the impact of COVID-19 crisis on their professional life. 

Florian, restaurant manager

Where do you live and where do you work?

I live in France, in a small village in Lorraine between Nancy and Metz, 20 minutes from the border of Luxembourg. I work in the heart of downtown Luxembourg-ville at The Place d’Armes, a five stars hotel. I am the manager of the restaurant Le Café de Paris. 

How long have you been working in Luxembourg? What brought you there?

I have been working in Luxembourg for 10 years. I went to a Hospitality School in France, at the border of Luxembourg. I needed a change. The classic education system was not working for me. I really found my career path in hospitality. The school had this philosophy of making us work with people from Luxembourg or Germany, most of the internships were in Luxembourg. It is a small country that needs workers. You can find a lot of foreigners from France, Belgium, Germany, etc., in the food and hospitality industry and different services. 

The day I graduated, I was asked to give my resume. Fifteen days later, I was starting my first job in Luxembourg, where salaries are more attractive. 

Before the crisis, were you used to crossing the border every day? 

Yes, every day. We had the choice between a 30m² apartment for about 1,300 euros per month or for the same price, own a house with a small garden and commute every day. We chose tranquillity. Today, we own a house, 1500m from the forest, which is pretty nice. In return, I have to drive at least 50 minutes when there is no one on the road. But with traffic, I usually leave home 2h30 before starting to work. 

What arrangements have been made in response to the situation? How are you coping with the lockdown?

All was very sudden. There was an announcement: “As from tomorrow, all bars and restaurants will be closed”. So we had to clean up everything. Some clients were still staying at the hotel. We have three restaurants, so we kept one open for them for room service only. We work in a five stars hotel which is part of the Relais et Châteaux Group. We need to be able to respond to the demands. So as long as they couldn’t take a flight back home, we had to remain open for them, without welcoming any new customer. We cancelled all reservations for March, April and now May. 

I have a few coworkers who have stayed onsite for room service or at the reception. I have a colleague from Poland who lives in a very small apartment with a roommate. I can’t imagine how difficult the lockdown could be for him. Parisians have been criticised a lot for leaving the capital for their holiday home. It is not my case, but I can understand them. 

We work in restaurants in a hotel, obviously remote work is unthinkable for us. But we still have a lot of meetings with the direction. What is great is that they don’t give up on us. They take advantage of the lockdown to provide online training. We have English classes online, training with the Vatel Institute, things we never have time to do usually when we are onsite. What is really great also is the government of Luxembourg’s parental help, days off for parents to take care of kids. 

What’s next?

Our situation is specific because we are part of hospitality, services that will re-open last. All governments, including France et Luxembourg, agreed on that. 

The end of lockdown in Luxembourg will be progressive. So we have no idea when we will be able to work again. Even after the opening, masks, for example, will be mandatory if you can’t respect the 2m social distancing. To serve clients with a mask in a luxury restaurant is not very appealing. So we are looking for solutions, but it’s pretty blurry for now. 70% of our turnover is done with the patios, and they will be forbidden. We can understand the sanitary restrictions, but economically, it’s a disaster. 

Tamime, pharmacist

Where do you live and where do you work?

My name is Tamime. I work in a pharmaceutical institute in Zurich, in Switzerland. Usually, I live in Zurich during the week, and I spend my weekend in Strasbourg, in France. Today, I am stuck at home in Strasbourg.

How long have you been working in Switzerland? What brought you there?

I have been working in Zurich since the beginning of this year, but it’s been 9 years in Switzerland. It is the only place where I found a job actually. I was looking for a job in France at first but couldn’t find anything. I got an opportunity in Switzerland, and I stayed there. 

What arrangements have been made in response to the situation? How are you coping with the lockdown?

It was pretty fast. We received an email on Friday saying that our offices were closed and that we couldn’t go back to work on Monday. As the border has been closed, and I am still a resident in France, I couldn’t go back to Zurich. 

We started to work remotely before the quarantine was announced in France. It was not very difficult since I just needed a computer to be able to work. Switzerland encouraged remote work as fast as possible. My company has provided computers to all employees who needed one. 

I almost work as normally in France as I would do it in Zurich because I am in touch with people who are everywhere in the world. The only difference is the absence of social interaction with my coworkers. 

What impact did the situation have on your professional activity?

It complicates things a bit. For example, just to get signatures. We realised that people are in quarantine everywhere in the world. We discover during meetings with our colleagues abroad that we can’t do certain things anymore, documents that can’t be signed. Things are not impossible but just slower, which can be a problem when we have to provide medicine to patients in need. 

We mainly make iron-based drugs, to treat renal infection, for instance, which is not linked to COVID-19. However, there is an impact on our patients who are waiting for dialysis, for example. It is sometimes very difficult in some countries where hospitals are overloaded. There are consequences on other pathologies when patients can’t be treated the same way. 

What’s next?

In Switzerland, the lockdown is different from France; they have more freedom. Only meetings with more than five people are forbidden. Since last week, hairdressers and shops have been open. Theoretically, I should know by next week if we are going back to the office or not. At first, we have been told July, but I think it is going to be earlier. There will be some arrangements to be made in order to respect social distancing. 

In the end, our job remains the same, but it is still less friendly to be alone at home.

1 Comment
2 weeks ago

Lockdown around the world has created the destruction of life as we know it with catastrophic outcomes for years to follow. The US has now 33.5 million unemployed, businesses have been decimated and lives ruined. Social distancing and draconian enforcements have driven people to insane realities never witnessed before on such an enormous scale. I'm wondering how long we can continue in this direction and how many lives does it really save. The longer we continue to shut down the world the longer the third world countries will suffer and endure starvation. According to the UN statistics there will be 130 million deaths in the third world as a direct result of our lock down measures. It needs to end and we need herd immunity to take place as it successfully did in Sweden. Saving lives and wearing masks is not saving lives in the third world. Conforming without any understanding of the true facts and consequences is nothing more than virtual signalling within your own community as a need to feel accepted, but this type of blind conformity is allowing mass deaths in Africa to occur largely uncovered by media outlets at the moment. Why ?