Worked up Looking for staff a full-time job for employers in hospitality sector

Interviewing prospective employees has been heavily taxing on Chris Graves.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2022 (205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Interviewing prospective employees has been heavily taxing on Chris Graves.

The owner of the King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District said for weeks, applicants have agreed to an interview — but then they fail to show up.

“You’ll have 15 people apply to a position… and maybe one or two people show up,” Graves said. “People can’t even open up certain days that they used to anymore because they don’t have the staff to do it, and the staff that they have are completely burnt out.”

“It’s one big giant cloud right now that’s overhead.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Chris Graves, the owner of the King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District, said for weeks, applicants have agreed to an interview — but then they fail to show up.

Labour shortages are the bane of the hospitality and service sector in Manitoba this summer. A Statistics Canada report on June 23 found 64 per cent of businesses in accommodation and food service across the country had anticipated challenges due to labour shortages in the next three months.

“It’s the No. 1 challenge that most businesses are facing. They just don’t have the labour they need to take part in the recovery,” said Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. “There’s no easy solution to this. We just need more people.”

Sachit Mehra, owner of East India Company restaurant on York Avenue, said he has had to reduce operating hours due to the labour shortage, which has irritated customers.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Sachit Mehra, owner of the East India Company, said he has had to reduce operating hours due to the labour shortage, which has irritated customers.

“It’s been going on for a while, especially in the industry. Basically, as soon as everything opened up after the pandemic is where you have this massive lack of staff or staff shortages across the board, in every category” Mehra said.

Jesse Hajer, an assistant professor of labour studies and economics at the University of Manitoba, said the labour shortage has been driven by the economy recovering faster than expected, combined with reduced immigration throughout the pandemic.

“We have one of the lowest unemployment rates we’ve ever seen. Canada is at 5.1 per cent unemployment, which is the lowest since at least the 1970s. Manitoba’s unemployment rate is 4.7 per cent,” Hajer said.

In terms of wage increases and mobility, workers currently have more leverage, Davidson said.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said this is the time for workers to ask for more.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said this is the time for workers to ask for more.

“For a long time, employers have been in the driver’s seat, with all the power, and have been able to pay poverty-level wages that people had to accept because they had no other choice. But people are having a choice now,” Rebeck said.

The hospitality industry, which includes many workers who are paid the minimum wage, has been particularly volatile throughout the pandemic. Workers and employers alike endured multiple closures and layoffs, making it a difficult recovery. In November 2021, there were 130,070 vacancies in the accommodation and food-services sector nationwide, Statistics Canada has reported. Now, employers and workers feel the burden of high inflation.

Hajer said many hospitality workers flocked to other sectors during the pandemic because they wanted stability.

Graves said some of his employees left the King’s Head for better-paying jobs in film and other industries.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES King’s Head owner Chris Graves said some of his employees left for better-paying jobs in film and other industries.

Currently, Manitoba’s minimum wage is $11.95 per hour. While it’s set to increase 40 cents to $12.35 an hour on Oct. 1, based on the 2021 annual rate of inflation of 3.4 per cent, it will be the lowest among the provinces, and much less than the inflation rate recorded in May: 7.7 per cent.

Earlier this year, Premier Heather Stefanson said Manitoba’s minimum wage was not a problem because the labour shortage had boosted wages.

However, Rebeck believes that low wages in the service industry are driving people out of the province and into other sectors. He said there is no reason the minimum wage should not be raised.

“I think a lot of workers are looking and seeing that they can get better pay in almost any other industry, and even other provinces, since our minimum wage is so low,” Rebeck said.

“I think a lot of workers are looking and seeing that they can get better pay in almost any other industry, and even other provinces, since our minimum wage is so low.” – Kevin Rebeck

In the spring session of the legislature, the Tory government passed a bill that gives it authority to boost the hourly rate above the current formula, which adjusts it every October to match the inflation rate from the previous year. Stefanson said the government will consult with businesses and labour leaders before increasing the rate again.

To help businesses increase staffing retention, Mehra believes the government must expand immigration. Every year, Canada accepts around 100,000 temporary foreign workers to help fill domestic labour gaps.

Recently, the federal government implemented measures to expand the immigrant labour pool. In April, Employment and Social Development Canada unveiled the Temporary Foreign Worker Solutions Road Map to address job vacancies across Canada. Sectors with demonstrated labour shortages, including accommodation and food service, are allowed to hire up to 30 per cent of their workforce through the program.

Mehra welcomes such changes but believes there are still bureaucratic barriers that prevent applications from being processed efficiently —and at a time when business owners need to hire people quickly, that’s an issue, he said.

“There’s no easy solution to this. We just need more people.” – Chuck Davidson, CEO of Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

“That end of the bureaucracy really needs to look at itself and say ‘what are we doing in terms of being responsive and being able to supply, or at least be in a situation where we’re able to put Canada first and our economy first?’” Mehra said.

Still, immigration isn’t the only way employers might try to recruit employees.

As the president and CEO of SCE Lifeworks, an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities get a job, Oly Backstrom believes many employers overlook the talents and skills of an underrepresented demographic.

“I know that businesses are really desperate right now for dependable employees, and it’s hard to hire people right now,” Backstrom said. “Hiring people with intellectual disabilities or autistic people means that employers are tapping into a workforce that has been largely ignored, historically.”

“Hiring people with intellectual disabilities or autistic people means that employers are tapping into a workforce that has been largely ignored, historically.” – Oly Backstrom

While businesses increasingly have diversity, equity and inclusion policies, he said disability inclusion is still lagging.

“Businesses struggle to figure out where people could fit, and as such, underestimate what people with intellectual disabilities are really capable of,” Backstrom said. “Part of our role is to make sure we understand how they operate, what tasks need to be completed, and what their processes are, and then go back to the job-seekers.”

During the summer, the labour market also relies on youth to help fill the gaps. Employment organizations across the city have been working to connect employers with youth. Mariam Abdelmessiah, an office manager with Youth Employment Services (Manitoba) said the organization offers free Serving it Safe, food handling and other certification to help youth get hospitality jobs.

At a time when inflation is hurting businesses and employees alike, it’s a taxing situation for all. Graves said a return of federal wage subsidies for small businesses would help restaurateurs struggling to staff their kitchens. While it’s difficult to say when the economy will reach an equilibrium, Hajer believes it has shifted the dynamic between workers and employers.

“Workers do seem to have more bargaining power now, but if we look at what’s happened over the last fourty years, workers have lost a lot of ground in that time period. We’ve seen inequality grow significantly,” Hajer said. “I think workers still have a lot of ground to make up.”

cierra.bettens@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Friday, July 8, 2022 10:15 PM CDT: Fixes typos.

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