“Percy” may not be working in British Columbia yet, but he already has the attention of the provincial government.
That’s the name of healthy fast-food chain Freshii’s new virtual cashier, who greets customers and takes their orders at some restaurants in the Toronto area.
The company recently announced “Percy” as a solution to staff shortages, and to “mobilize a global and eager workforce” as it outsources cashier jobs to workers in countries in Central America. Labour advocates, meanwhile, say the move eliminates entry-level jobs in Canada and exploits people in countries with a lesser working standard and lower minimum wage.
B.C. is also grappling with the labour shortage, while planning on welcoming more than a million new residents before 2030.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said his government is working on a plan to protect workers and is reviewing labour legislation on gig economies.
“My message to all employers in B.C. is that we have minimum standards and protections for all workers and they must follow those,” Bains told Global News. “Having said that, we also know the economy is changing, the new technology that is being adopted by employers brings it own challenges.”
A shift away from a traditional workforce in retail is not new.
Many companies hire people from outside the country to work in call centres, and companies like Amazon have been experimenting with retail stores in the United States where there are no cashiers at all.
Nevertheless, said Bains: “The gig economy is here. Virtual work is here. But our responsibility as a government is to ensure that workers have a minimum standard.”
– with files from Morganne Campbell