Restaurant and hotel operators across Quebec are feeling the squeeze as Omicron exacerbates an already worrisome labour shortage.
Seventy-nine per cent of Quebec hotel and restaurant owners say they’ve had to work longer hours as a result of the workforce scarcity, while 70 per cent said their employees have been working overtime, according to a new member poll conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Many establishments have also had to curtail opening hours because they can’t find enough staff, with 48 per cent of restaurant owners who answered the poll saying they’ve had to turn down business due to personnel issues.
“Finding people is virtually impossible these days, which is why we can no longer open at lunchtime,” Olivier de Montigny, chef owner of Laurier Ave.’s La Chronique restaurant, said Friday in an interview. La Chronique now operates four nights a week, down from five nights and four middays a week before the pandemic.
“A few weeks ago, I posted a job opening for a cook that paid about $20 an hour. One person applied,” de Montigny said. “A lot of the big hotels are now in recruiting mode, which makes it hard for small restaurants like ours to compete.”
Construction is another industry that’s been hit particularly hard by the labour scarcity.
Sixty-seven per cent of small businesses in the sector have had to turn down sales and contracts because they don’t have enough staff to perform the work, the CFIB poll found. Sixty-five per cent of construction business owners said they’ve had to put in longer hours, while half of respondents said they’ve also had to resort to employee overtime.
All told, 63 per cent of Quebec small business executives polled said they’re working more because of the current labour situation. Another 39 per cent said they’ve had to refuse some contracts.
CFIB polled 1,332 members online from March 14 to April 7. Results of the survey are considered to be accurate to within 2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“Working longer hours means there is a growing risk of burnout among entrepreneurs,” François Vincent, CFIB’s vice-president for Quebec, said in an interview. “Business owners are not superheroes.”
Quebec is the province that’s suffered the most economically from the pandemic. Vacant job postings in Quebec soared 88 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2019 — the last period before the start of the pandemic — and the fourth quarter of 2021, Statistics Canada data show. More than 238,000 jobs were unfilled in the province at the end of 2021, an increase of 111,410 over two years.
Solutions do exist, but they would require the provincial government to permanently raise immigration ceilings, which Premier François Legault has been unwilling to do. Quebec could also cut payroll taxes to help business owners pay higher wages, Vincent said. Eight out of 10 Canadian provinces have lower small business taxes than Quebec, he said.
“It’s about time that the government put in place a plan to ease the fiscal burden of small businesses,” Vincent said. “If Quebec wants to deal with the labour shortage, we need more tools.”