August 18, 2015 1:52 am
Updated: August 18, 2015 7:35 pm

Labour crisis hits Whistler amidst flourishing tourism

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WATCH: Whistler businesses struggle with worker shortage

Despite the town being packed with tourists, local businesses in Whistler are struggling to stay open at full capacity due to a shortage of workers.

“We’ve got a strong American dollar against the Canadian dollar. Tourists are coming back. The resort looks fantastic…We want to be able to capitalize on that.” said Val Litwin, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

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This year has been the best summer for tourism in Whistler, but staffing issues are worse than ever. Thanks to a labour shortage, businesses often operate with a fully part-time staff.

Sixty business owners are set to meet with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to discuss the situation and explore possible solutions.

‘Victims of our own success’

“Our summers have become extremely busy,’ said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, Mayor of Whistler. “We’ve sort of become victims of our own success.”

Wilhelm-Morden noted that part of the staffing issues stem from the fact that most seasonal workers, who make up a large portion of the town’s workforce, choose to focus on working during the winter.

Policy changes

According to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, there are a few other major issues that are contributing to this labour crisis.

Federal policy changes limit the number of temporary foreign workers who can work in the area.

“We’re not asking the federal government for any special treatment…we measure our unemployment, we are below six per cent, so we’re below their thresholds,” said Litman.

“We should have access for some of those positions through the temporary foreign worker program.”

According to Mayor Wilhelm-Morden, there has already been a discussion about the issue with the federal minister and chamber of Commerce.

“Its not just a Whistler problem. The shortage of workers in the tourism and hospitality industry is a nationwide issue.” she said.

“The federal authorities need to look into it properly.”

The Mayor also mentioned that policy changes regarding the Working Holiday visa in Canada might also affect the influx of workers in Whistler.

She fears that this will specially harm businesses in the upcoming winter season, which is typically the busiest season in the year.

Cost of living

When talking to workers about the situation in Whistler, affordability and high cost of living play a major part in making it difficult for them to stay and work there.

Most workers end up working more than one job or work multiple shifts.

“We live, eat, breathe, sleep, drink and do everything in this town. If the prices of things go up, it doesn’t matter if I make a couple of extra bucks since the price of everything for me to live here also goes up,” explains local business owner Kathi Jazic.

Despite there being a surplus of jobs available offering competitive salaries and benefits, its still not enough to entice workers as it barely helps make ends meet.

Talking about whether better wages might help bring in workers, Wilhelm-Morden commented that while it might help fill certain entry-level positions, there is a shortage of workers for senior level and skilled positions that cannot be fixed by higher salaries alone.

High housing costs are also often sighted as a major issue, something that Wilhelm-Morden says town authorities have tried to tackle through their affordable housing program.

“We actually house 81 per cent of our workforce here in Whistler,” she said.

-With files from Leigh Kjekstad

© 2015 Shaw Media

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