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Lockdown rules getting under tattoo artist’s skin; hairstylists also concerned

‘Open us up, get us going’ is hairstylist’s message to Labour Minister
20210204-Vince Dingwall, tattoo artist-DT
Vince Dingwall, English Wizard Tattoo Studio owner/operator and professional tattoo artist, Feb. 4, 2021.

Like so many other small business owners whose doors remain closed due to the current COVID-19 state of emergency in Ontario, Vince Dingwall is not only worried over loss of income, but also at what many are calling an unfair set of lockdown rules.

“The dentists are open...but the problem I’ve got is, we (tattoo artists) are less close to a person than what a dentist is,” said Dingwall, English Wizard Tattoo Studio owner/operator and professional tattoo artist (popularly known as ‘Dinga’).  

Dingwall told us he and a customer would normally both wear masks at his studio if he were allowed to open, whereas a dentist would wear a mask while a patient (naturally) wouldn’t, which has Dingwall wondering ‘why can’t I open my business?’    

“We observe the same rules, health regulations, stipulations, blood files and everything else the same as a dentist. We are appointment only, we are one on one.”

“This needs to get sorted out,” Dingwall said, sharing feelings expressed by others in calling for a level playing field during the lockdown.

“I’m driving past kindergarten classes with five year old kids running around playing with each other, hugging each other. How can you set one rule for one and one rule for another? You’ve got a lot of people in Walmart standing talking to each other and you can’t tattoo someone or do someone’s hair?”

To those who would question the similarity between dentists (along with other health professionals) and tattoo artists, Dingwall replied “I would say we are cosmetic art surgeons. At the end of the day you are marking the skin.”

While not identifying himself as an official spokesperson for any group, Dingwall said “I’m fighting for all tattoo artists, hair stylists, nail technicians and body piercers. I follow the same health regulations (as dentists, he emphasized)...if I put someone down in a chair in my studio and put a tattoo on his arm or leg, there’s no difference to getting your teeth pulled.” 

“It’s getting tough for small businesses (due to the lockdown). Some of them aren’t going to end up making it. They’re losing way too much money now,” said Gerry Giordano, Hollywood Beauty Salon Supply & Tanning owner/operator (located in Cambrian Mall).

“I’ve got a feeling we’re going to see some businesses close. Right now some of the big stores are doing well but the small guy is the one that’s the backbone of Sault Ste. Marie. It’s all the small businesses that keep the city going. We employ a lot of people and there’s a lot of them sitting there unemployed right now.”

Giordano said he had to lay off all his staff, currently by himself at his salon, able to offer only curbside sales of hair care products.

“It’s tough on them (his staff).”

“The problem is the (provincial) government’s not really telling us when we’re going to go back. It’s February the 11th some people are saying, some say it’s February 7th, but it’s not 100 per cent. There are businesses that need time to open up, order products, call their staff in and have meetings after being closed for a month. We’ve got to know and I think they should tell us,” Giordano said.

“I just hope everybody stays safe and we get this vaccine and everybody can get back to normal eventually. It’s hard for small businesses right now.”

The lockdown is also upsetting Debbie Dunseath, professional hairstylist, Shear Magic owner/operator and Ontario Professional Hairstylist Association (OPHA) president.

“The issue is we’re not classified as essential workers, but (also) we are one of only 23 compulsory trades in Ontario, but the only one not working (not allowed to operate during the lockdown),” Dunseath said.

“All the other compulsory trades are governed under the Ontario College of Trades, which is now being disbanded and we're being moved over to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, but in the interim there’s a void. Nobody from one side is talking to the other side. Nobody’s taking care of us. There are 144 trades (in Ontario), but there’s only 23 of them that are compulsory and hairstylists are the only ones not working.”

“Are we respected (as tradespeople)? I would say no, not at this point. I’ve been doing this for 46 years. In our curriculum there’s health and safety, there are policies and regulations, all of that learning falls under the Ontario Health and Safety Act. We learn it all, we’ve got it, we know it,” said Dunseath, a former Sault College hairstyling instructor.

“We’re very disturbed by the fact we’re not working.”

Dunseath said no one in government has seemed to hear, despite a letter campaign.

“Zero reply, which is just so disrespectful.”

Dunseath said she and OPHA have not received replies from the office of Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development or Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues.

“People are not making money. 80 per cent of our workers are females, and out of that 80 per cent I would say probably 40 per cent minimum are single income families where they’re the main breadwinner, and they’re not working.”

Dunseath said she works out of her home (with no commercial rent to pay) but has had to lay off her one other employee.

But with so many other hair salon owners not working and unable to pay rent, both in the Sault and across Ontario, Dunseath said “people are going to close.”

“All of the things that were in place (after the first lockdown was lifted last summer, such as hairstylists and customers wearing masks, altered scheduling of staff and booking of appointments) were effective. There are no stats on it.”

There is no evidence of COVID transmission at hair salons, Dunseath said, stating hairstyling is grouped together with professions such as personal support worker, some PSWs having been stricken with COVID.

“I would like to see Mr. McNaughton (Minister of Labour) to have a conversation at a round table with people that represent one of his 23 compulsory trades, the only one not working, to help us get back to work or at the very least explain why we’re not working.”

“Open us up, get us going,” Dunseath said.