B.C. restaurant ad offering $50K salary for dishwasher sparks labour shortage discussion

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B.C. restaurant offering $50,000 per year salary for dishwashers
Labour-starved B.C. businesses are hungry to hire amid staffing shortages and one Vancouver restaurant is now offering entry-level job seekers the opportunity to clean up, with no experience required. Emad Agahi reports – Oct 22, 2021

A Vancouver restaurant’s ad offering an annual salary of $50,000 for a new dishwasher is sparking renewed discussion about labour shortages in the province’s hospitality sector.

In August, the Handi Grill advertised an hourly wage of $25 for the job, citing the “effects of labour shortage.” Dishwashing is an entry-level position whose pay normally hovers around minimum wage.

“I think it reflects just how desperate our industry is right now to attract labour,” Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada vice-president for Western Canada, told Global News.

The Handi Grill has since removed the ad posted on both and WorkBC, and while it declined a request for comment on the story, a spokesperson told Global News the position had been filled.

Read more: B.C. business community wary of gaps in new COVID-19 financial support

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Emad Yacoub, CEO of the Glowbal Restaurant Group, suspected that advertisement was a “one-off” indicative of desperation. He acknowledged the sector is experiencing a labour shortage, but suggested such high salaries for entry-level work would not be sustainable for anyone.

“If you’re (earning) $50,000 as a dishwasher — that’s the entry job — what are you going to pay your second cook? What are you going to pay your first cook? Sous chef?” he asked. “Forget about what they’re making, how much is the consumer willing to pay for the food?

“We’re willing to transfer the money to the staff if the consumer is willing to spend $80 on a plate of salmon. It’s not going to happen.”

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Glowbal has 10 restaurants in the Vancouver area and more on the way.

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Yacoub said there’s been an increase in resumes submitted since Ottawa placed an end date on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but Glowbal is still in need of dishwashers, which it’s currently recruiting at an hourly rate of $17.

According to Restaurants Canada, there were about 60,000 job vacancies in B.C.’s restaurant sector before the pandemic — a number that has since more than doubled to 130,000.

Nine out of 10 restaurants also say they could use more staff, it reports.

The shortage is to due several factors, von Schellwitz said, including a shrinking demographic of young workers, a migration to other professions during the pandemic and CERB.

Read more: Vancouver’s Corduroy Restaurant ordered to close for defying COVID-19 vaccine card

Economist Stephen Brown of Capital Economics agreed. He said the Handi Grill example “pinpoints” a well-known tale of labour shortage across the country, which peaked in the summer.

Hopes that winding down federal unemployment supports will bring workers back may be misplaced, he added.

“I think the reality is, it’s not going to be that helpful … until immigration starts picking up again there’s just not going to be a supply for these jobs.”

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Luring workers back will be a “tricky challenge” for restaurants, because demand for the service outweighs the supply of workers, said Brown.

Restaurants may be cautious about raising wages, he explained, lest they end up with a net gain of very few staff, all of whom they have to pay more.

“Some restaurants can afford to do that, higher-end restaurants … but if you think of your average fast food restaurant, they just don’t have the profit margins to be raising wages, and if they do they’ll have to put up prices and risk losing customers.”

It’s likely to be a “wait and see” scenario, he said, and smaller restaurants need to innovate, finding new ways to attract workers or efficiencies that replace them.

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