by Cindy Sternberg
The Covid-19 pandemic struck Canada, and despite hope it would be like the earlier SARS arrival, it continues to wreak havoc on the economy. Attempts to reopen and get the economy on the move have been hampered by hiring difficulties across many industries. One in particular is the restaurant sector.
Food service has always been plagued by natural fluctuations in staffing levels. Spring often brings an influx of student workers, and autumn sees them return to school, leaving businesses scrambling to find enough people. The pandemic has increased the scramble, and many employers have turned to rolling closures and slow service. It appears many are blaming the difficulty of finding workers on the Canada Recovery Benefit.
Why is this benefit accused of holding otherwise capable workers at home rather than in service positions? The after-tax amount of $270 per week, equal to a few days of employment income, prevents a business from being more attractive? The food sector is competing directly with all other low-skilled sectors. Offering a wage at minimum or slightly more will guarantee being selected last, if at all.
The government offering of CRB is not the problem. The lack of low-skilled workers is compounded by concerns about the SARSCOV-2 virus, and in some cases, concerns about the available vaccines and the measures taken to increase uptake of them. However, these issues are not the problem either.
A person working in a full-time, minimum wage position cannot cover their cost of living with that wage. In most areas of Canada, housing has gone up in cost, dramatically. Expenses for food, transportation, utilities, have all gone up. If you want to attract employees, you must recognize their basic cost of living. Offer a good wage, as high as your business can withstand, in recognition of the cost of living across the region in which your business operates.
Another perk of employment which is often not found in low-paid work is benefits. If your workers are not earning enough to pay their rent and put food on the table, you can be positive they also cannot afford dental care, vision care, and short and long-term disability. The premiums for such insurance would be out of reach for many. Group benefits are lower cost than individual policies.
Providing a better wage is an obvious way to attract employees. Paid benefits may be the best and only way to ensure your staffing levels are sufficient. In larger cities, transportation may also contribute to the lack of staff. The cost of transit, or in longer travel scenarios, a vehicle, is also above the minimum pay grade. The things most often taken for granted are the things that will lead employees, at minimum wage, to be looking for something else on their first day with you.
Minimum wage is difficult to live on, unless there are several in the household contributing. In many cases this is not the real-life scenario. A single mom, a part-time student, an older person trying to stay above water, and this is the picture of real life. Your minimum can be closer to life’s minimums, for a full staff and a happy business. Stand taller than the rest, and be the best employer you can be.
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