Concerns about staff shortages preventing some B.C. businesses from fully reopening

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Is the B.C. entertainment sector facing a labour shortage?' COVID-19: Is the B.C. entertainment sector facing a labour shortage?
While B.C.'s restaurants, movie theatres, pubs, bars and casinos are looking forward to reopening within weeks, they're worried that many of their laid-off employees will have moved on. John Hua reports – May 28, 2021

B.C.’s casinos, nightclubs, movie theatres and bars are starting to gear up to reopen with new safety plans in place after being closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But part of reopening involves staff — either hiring back previous staff or training new hires — and there is concern among business owners that staff may not be available.

Carl McCreath, president of restaurant operations for Steamworks Restaurant Group told Global News that not all of their staff have been sitting around waiting for restaurants to return to full capacity and there are less people, especially in downtown Vancouver, who are looking to return to work.

“I would say a month, month and a half ago, when we were advertising, we would get some responses, not as overwhelming as you would think, based on where the market was at,” he said. “And now that everybody’s reopened there’s a lot of ads out there and we’re finding really little-to-no responses for people coming to look for work right now.”

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Iconic Vancouver theatre counts down the days to restart – May 27, 2021

Steamworks is currently operating at about 30 per cent, McCreath said and they are hoping people start to realize they are getting back to full capacity and there are good jobs available right now.

“When it was the second wave, and it was December and January and they had to pull back more restrictions, there wasn’t vaccines in the market at the time,” he said. There’s now vaccines and I think everybody sees the reopen plan.

“We see the stability it’s going to create … It’s time for the restaurant and the hospitality experience to come back.”

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. lays out restart plan including a return to normal by September

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Jeff Guignard from B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees told Global News the province’s reopening plan is going to save a lot of businesses that were on the brink of having to close.

But getting the staff is proving to be a big challenge.

“There’s just not enough workers in the environment right now for a lot of the businesses and with everyone reopening you can see that they are staggering it across the sectors. Not because they want to but because they have to get everybody [hired] and get everybody trained,” Guignard said.

“During the pandemic, we’ve had to lay staff off two or three times, sometimes, and I wouldn’t put up with that — I’d go get a different job — so you can see where they’re coming from.”

Read more: Wearing a mask in B.C. indoor public spaces could be optional by July 1

But he’s hoping people looking for jobs know that the hospitality industry is getting back on its feet and they need good people to fill good jobs.

“These are good jobs and they are going to pay quite well,” he added.

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Reopening B.C.: The future of big events following pandemic – May 25, 2021

It’s not just the restaurant industry that needs workers, however.

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Casinos have been shut down since March 2020, and they are gearing up to reopen on July 1.

“Our B.C. casino workers stopped working right at the beginning of this pandemic, in March 2020, so it’s been a tough year for them for sure,” Stephanie Smith, president of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union said Friday.

“Knowing how many of our membership may have had to find other alternative employment during this time, it’s going to be really difficult to tell. Thankfully, we had unionized agreements that protected their jobs, we’ve been negotiating return-to-work agreements. So we won’t know what the numbers are like until people start getting recalled.”

Read more: 10 things you need to know about B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

While some casino employees may be to be retrained or recertified, Smith said most are ready to come back to work.

“I think it’s important to recognize these are professionals,” Smith said. “They have the skills and the experiences and they’re ready to come back to work in a safe way.”


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