Restaurant operators across Canada are struggling to find enough employees to run their operations. This labor crisis has been heavily publicized by the Canadian media as a “labour shortage”.
A recent survey by Restaurants Canada found that 80 percent of food service operators were finding it difficult to hire kitchen staff and 67 percent were having trouble filling service, bar-tending and hosting positions.
Before the pandemic, Canada’s food service sector employed 1.2 million people, and according to Statistics Canada it currently needs to fill 130,000 positions to reach pre-pandemic levels. That said, the Canadian restaurant industry has been grappling with hiring and retention problems for many years.
Should the chronic recruitment struggle of Canadian restaurants be referred to as a labor shortage, or can it be more accurately characterized as an issue of retention due to a lack of good work? Does the use of the term labor shortage remove the responsibility of restaurant operators to create these shortages, and instead put it on Canadian job seekers?
First job for many Canadians
A 2010 Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association report found that 22 percent of Canadians worked in a restaurant as their first job – the highest of any industry. The study also found that 32 percent of Canadians had worked in the restaurant industry at one time.
These figures show that millions of Canadians have been introduced to restaurant work and that the industry has enjoyed an endless supply of labor for decades. So why is it that the restaurant industry is burning through so many?
Our research on restaurant work conditions shows that working in a restaurant is difficult, due to long hours and unpredictable schedules that require the sacrifice of work-life balance. While restaurant work can be rewarding and fun, it can also be low-paying, stressful and physically demanding, all of which can have a negative impact on mental health.
Many restaurant workers spend at least eight hours a day on their feet and don’t have time for breaks or meals. Workers are also required to relinquish their social and family life by working late nights, weekends and holidays.
Many restaurant workers almost never know exactly when their shift will end, and are placed on unexpected split shifts or “on call” shifts to save on labor costs.
toxic work environment
The restaurant industry has also been rampant with sexual harassment, abuse and toxic work environments.
A study by Statistics Canada found that hospitality workers have the worst job quality of any industry. This was largely due to low earnings, inability to take time off, paid sick leave, lack of training opportunities and a lack of complementary medical and dental care.
The same study found that 67 percent of hospitality workers work in working conditions that fall below the standard of good work.
So what exactly is “decent work”? It is a concept established by the International Labor Organization and linked to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Civilized work establishes universal working conditions that are central to the well-being of workers.
These conditions are considered minimum labor standards which include living wages, working hours that allow free time and leisure, safe work environments and access to health care. Decent work is considered a human right, but based on the working conditions of restaurants, it appears that the Canadian restaurant industry is struggling to provide it to all of its employees.
exodus of workers from industry
Through our research on restaurant work, and through conversations with many restaurant employees across the country, we’ve learned that many are leaving the industry because work is a grind. Not only this, they see no future in a job that hinders their well-being.
The pandemic gave workers time to find jobs in other industries that offer greater stability and offer regular work schedules, vacation time, higher wages and benefits.
These workers often felt neglected, and that their employers did not believe they were worth investing in.
While there are certainly good restaurants employers, the industry as a whole has failed to improve working conditions because historically, there were always new people to fill roles.
This raises the question: can the constant reference to labor shortages in the restaurant industry actually create a lack of urgency in addressing long-standing issues of quality of work?
If restaurants want to operate with full staff in the post-pandemic future, they need to invest in their workforce, because after all, it is impossible to run a restaurant without people working in it.
The restaurant industry has always spent money, time and resources on attracting customers and increasing revenue. It’s time for restaurant operators to make their employees consider and provide the best experience for internal customers as much as they do for their external customers.
A good place to start for operators is to provide decent and respectable work for all that offers decent wages, benefits and healthy working conditions.
This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.