COVID-19: Fifth wave leads to staff shortages, closures at BC restaurants

“We could have kept our doors open, but we did not want the staff to feel insecure. A few more of our team members ended up being tested positive for COVID-19.” – Simon Fallick, owner of The American in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant

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On the eve of what is traditionally one of the busiest evenings of the year for dining, restaurants across the province are having a hard time keeping their doors open due to an increase in COVID-19 cases and evolving public health guidelines.

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Restaurant owners, who are already short of staff, say the labor crisis facing BC’s hospitality industry has been exacerbated by a record number of infections due to the Omicron variant, which keeps both longtime employees. and customers at home.

BC reported 4,383 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There are 211 people battling the virus at the hospital, 66 of whom are in intensive care.

Simon Fallick, the owner of The American in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant, made the decision to voluntarily close the bar after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 a week and a half before Christmas.

“Although the shutdown cost us tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, it allowed staff to assess their symptoms and be tested,” Fallick said.

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“We could have kept our doors open, but we did not want the staff to feel insecure. A few more of our team members ended up testing positive for COVID-19.”

BC has begun triaging visitors at COVID-19 testing facilities, which have been in full-capacity operation, and reserved PCR testing for those most at risk. Fully vaccinated individuals who show mild symptoms are advised to behave as if they had COVID-19 and to isolate themselves for seven days.

Vancouver’s Le Crocodile restaurant had no choice but to close as several employees tested positive for COVID-19.

“There was no one else who could work,” said chef and owner Michel Jacob. “This was the first Christmas season we’ve had to close in 38 years. It was a big hit for us, we estimate losses close to $ 100,000.”

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Another blow to the industry, caused by the pandemic, was a drop in the pool of skilled migrants who were contracted to work at BC restaurants, says Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

“During the first wave, when restaurants were closed for almost three months, many workers moved on because employment was not consistent. Some went back to school, others changed jobs.

“We are seeing the same threat return with increasing COVID-19 cases.”

The province faces an estimated shortage of about 40,000 employees, 20 percent of the workforce at restaurants, which employs close to 190,000 workers including chefs, bartenders and servers, said Tostenson, who does not expect the domestic market to fill the shortage at some point. soon.

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Le Crocodile, which currently employs three workers from France, Japan and Mexico, is struggling to find people to work as dishwashers.

“Two years ago we paid $ 18 or $ 19 an hour for a dishwasher. Today we pay $ 25 and are still struggling to find help,” Jacob said. “The government must be open to treating foreign work permits in a more timely manner . “

Ian Tostenson, CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.
Ian Tostenson, CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Currently, companies must conduct a labor market assessment to prove that no home helpers are available for the job before they are able to hire a foreign worker. The document process can take up to 10 months, Tostenson said.

“We have asked the province to exempt BC employers from having to apply for a labor market assessment for two years.”

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The dilemma for restaurants comes amid reports of labor shortages in other hospitality sectors, including tourism.

On Thursday, BC Ferries canceled two round-trip sailings on the Swartz Bay route to Tsawwassen, citing staffing problems due to COVID-19.

The Canadian airline Westjet announced that it is cutting 15 percent of flights by the end of January to deal with staff shortages that have come as a result of a 35 percent increase in active COVID-19 cases among staff in recent days.

Vern Shram, general manager of Manning Park Resort, told Postmedia on Thursday that he and other senior executives were forced to work at the resort’s check-in counter due to several employees reporting sick. Only a few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, he said.

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Recognizing the current shortage of staff, BC’s provincial health officer said Dr. Bonnie Henry that the province is considering reducing the self-isolation time to five days, in line with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a reality that for some companies, if they have a lot of sick leavers who are unable to work, they’ll have to find ways to either get extra staff or they’ll have to close,” Henry said.

Fallick, who reopened The American on Christmas Day 2 with a full list of staff, expects the loss of revenue for his business to continue until January, as customers express a greater reluctance to eat out in groups.

“If the province was prepared for the fifth wave with enough COVID-19 tests, people would not be so scared,” Fallick said. “It is not fair for BC companies and their employees to be penalized by the pandemic.”

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

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