Some Prince Rupert restaurant and bar managers are echoing their counterparts across British Columbia reasoning the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is creating tough times for recalling or finding new staff as the province moves toward reopening after the pandemic.
Many employees or potential job applicants they said, are becoming accustomed to the cushion CERB is providing, instead of possibly working to earn a wage.
Initially, the emergency benefit was to provide income for those who had been laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Implemented for a 16 week time frame, set to run out in early July, the Liberal government has now promised to increase the benefit to a total of 24 weeks, extending into the summer season.
“CERB is definitely competition for finding new staff,” Holley Minger Prince Rupert Ocean View Hotel manager, said.
Minger has been advertising and posting hiring notices for more than a month and has not had one resume come in, she said. Not one C.V. has been received for any of the five positions she is hiring for. She has managed the hotel and restaurant for more than 13 years and said it has never previously been such an issue finding staff.
“The whole town is having a hard time finding staff anywhere. Yeah, there’s absolutely no resumes coming through the door,” she said.
“People have told me, ‘why should I come to work if I’m getting $2,000 a month free from the government’, right? And so that’s the problem. Right now, nobody wants to even come and apply.”
Minger said that before the COVID-19 shut down the hotel had seven staff which were placed on temporary lay-offs. All but one returned when called back to work in May. Despite most of her staff returning, with the summer season, she now needs staff, but with the CERB extension into the summer, the difficulties finding staff increase during the tourist season.
Minger said, with not all of the restaurants reopening in town, hers is now ‘screaming busy’. It’s a double edged sword she said, because without the staff the food quality and customer service suffer.
“When CERB came in, it was easier for employees to maybe not work the full time hours they previously needed because they were getting compensated through CERB.”
Minger said during the pandemic health and safety guidelines also need to be taken into account.
“The protocol to the COVID-19 is also a factor … I can’t force people to come to work, right. And I wouldn’t want to force people to come to work because then they don’t want to be there anyway,” she said.
Executive Chef, Jason Zimmer of Breakers Pub and Restaurant agrees with Minger that CERB is affecting potential job applicants desire to gain employment. With more than 25 years under his chefs toque in restaurant management and hospitality in the lower mainland, Zimmer has experienced ‘the big picture’ roles and situations in his career, he said.
“People are having (a very hard) time. Every restaurant in British Columbia was allowed to open on May 19th – with restrictions of course, but maybe 50 per cent did. The reason is that people could not get their staff back. The CERB has been a great thing but only to a point …” he said.
Zimmer explained that generally in the restaurant business, a server in a moderately busy establishment, can make between $300 to $1200 a night in tips. This means that ‘front of house’ staff are eager to return to work upon the reopening because they earn more than CERB pays.
“Now kitchen staff on the other hand, there’s an entirely different scenario … In a lot of restaurants kitchen staff made more money sitting on their (backsides) playing video games getting the CERB than they did working 40 hours a week sweating (profusely) in 100 degree kitchens for eight hours a day.”
“I think the big problem is the CERB – in the hospitality industry, it was big enough that people thought ‘why would I go back to work?’… Lets say you take home $2500 a month, or you can collect two grand and do (nothing at) all. That is what is happening in the business.”
Zimmer said, even though his restaurant has been ‘extremely lucky’ with most staff returning, they have a full front of house staff, but not kitchen staff.
“Basically, finding staff is a massive issue,” Zimmer said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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