Ordering at your local Freshii may look a little different next time you stop in at the healthy fast-food alternative. The Toronto-based company has launched “Percy,” a virtual cashier who takes your order and payment.
“Unlike a kiosk or a pre-ordering app, which removes human jobs entirely, Percy allows for the face-to-face customer experience, that restaurant owners and operators want to provide their guests, by mobilizing a global and eager workforce,” the company said in a statement signed by “Percy.”
The virtual cashier is a SaaS technology platform which the company said is aimed at helping the restaurant industry grapple with its biggest crisis ever: staffing shortages.
Designed by “Thomas and Friends,” Freshii said the technology will help by creating “a human solution for the ordering/cashier process.”
Freshii operates more than 340 stores in North America and abroad, and while “Percy” may appear as a method to circumvent Ontario’s employment standards, employment lawyers say the practice is entirely legal.
”It’s just like any other outsourcing by a company. So, if you hire workers in another country, your only obligation as an employer is to ensure that you are in compliance with minimum employment standards legislation of that particular country,” Fiona Martin of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, a Toronto law firm, said.
But Freshii is facing criticism for the decision to outsource cashier jobs as the Canadian Labour Congress expresses concern over eliminating important front-facing jobs that are usually staffed by students breaking into the job market.
“You’re taking a situation where you’re exploiting workers in another country who have a lesser working standard, who have a much smaller minimum wage,” president Bea Bruske said. “That’s not acceptable, nor should it be acceptable.”
The Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development called the outsourcing of cashiers “outrageous,” adding that it “moves entirely in the wrong direction.”
“I expect better from a Toronto-based company and know customers will vote with their feet,” Minister Monte McNaughton said.
The official Opposition is also voicing concern, explaining in a one-on-one interview with Global News that these types of jobs need to be protected.
“To strengthen employment standards legislation to deal with the fact that there are new kinds of technology that are revolutionizing our labour market and the legislation has to reflect that,” NDP labour critic Peggy Sattler said.
Freshii maintains the virtual cashier helps redirect staff to “higher-value work,” and pointed to automation in general including self-checkouts and app-based companies like Amazon who have taken people out of the sales process entirely.
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