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B.C. restaurants call for looser foreign worker rules amid labour shortage

Click to play video: 'B.C. restaurant industry asks government for help to alleviate critical labour shortage'
B.C. restaurant industry asks government for help to alleviate critical labour shortage
The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is calling on the provincial and federal governments to streamline the process for bringing in foreign workers, to deal with a shortage of as many as 35,000 workers. Emad Agahi reports – May 19, 2022

Heading into their first patio weekend of the year, Vancouver restaurant chain Romer’s Burger Bar is expecting a big boost in sales. But they’re going to have to do it shorthanded.

“I’ve never seen a time and place in my 40 years in the industry like it is today,” co-owner Kelly Gordon said.

Read more: Labour shortage forces closure of Penticton, B.C. pizzeria

“We’re short about 30 per cent of what we could possibly have at this period of time, and it’s simply a supply and demand issue.”

Romer’s, like restaurants across the province, is struggling with a critical labour shortage.

The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association estimates the industry is currently short between 35,000 and 40,000 workers, about double the gap it was facing before the pandemic.

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Click to play video: 'Labour shortage means B.C. employers offering generous incentives for new hires'
Labour shortage means B.C. employers offering generous incentives for new hires

“There was so much uncertainty during COVID that they moved on and got careers in other industries over time and we just haven’t seen the replacement people come back through,” Gordon said.

Along with a shortage of domestic workers, Gordon said Romer’s has also faced challenges with backlogs to approve applicants through the temporary foreign worker program.

Read more: As pandemic restrictions wane, labour shortage persists for B.C. businesses

He said the chain is down about six people per location who had been interviewed and offered jobs, but whose applications still hadn’t come through.

To speed the process up, the BCRFA wants the the provincial government to seek a temporary exemption for B.C. hospitality employers from the need to file federal Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs).

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Currently employers need to obtain an LMIA showing there is a need for a temporary foreign worker, and that no Canadians or permanent residents are available for the job.

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B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said the province is aware of concerns, and in talks with the federal government about how to improve the program.

“We’re pushing the feds not only to reduce the time, but we’re also pushing them to give us more levers and more say in what type of workers we need, because we know what we need and right now we can’t fill positions in every sector,” Kahlon said.

Read more: Labour shortage looms as B.C. aims for pandemic-rebound summer

The federal government already made changes to the program in April in a bid to address labour shortage concerns.

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The length of time an LMIA is valid has been doubled from nine to 18 months, and high-need sectors like the foodservice industry are being permitted to hire up to 30 per cent of their workforce from overseas.

None of those adjustments will help Romer’s this weekend, where management has had to implement several changes to ensure business flows smoothly.

“Smaller menus, easier to execute. In some cases we actually have to take tables out of the restaurant … we just don’t have enough people to service them,” Gordon said.

“We just ask for a little patience if you’re out for this weekend and give your sever a little extra time possibly. It’s going to be a busy weekend.”

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