Businesses feeling the pain of tight labour market 

Chamber works with province to push for exemptions to TFWP

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - CLOSING SHOP Samura Sushi has had to resort to closing its Nesters location, pictured, on Mondays and its Creekside location on Tuesdays to deal with ongoing staffing shortages — a problem that is plaguing many local businesses this summer.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • CLOSING SHOP Samura Sushi has had to resort to closing its Nesters location, pictured, on Mondays and its Creekside location on Tuesdays to deal with ongoing staffing shortages — a problem that is plaguing many local businesses this summer.

As Whistler's busy summer months are about to take off local businesses are struggling with labour shortages not seen at this level for years in the resort.

Samurai Sushi is closing its Creekside location on Mondays and its Nesters location on Tuesdays due to staff shortages.

"It's a bit of a kick in the teeth. July and August are definitely our busiest months," said owner Ru Mehta.

While summers are traditionally tight for staff, this year has been made even tougher by changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

"The program is still technically open, but it's very difficult to get people in," Mehta said. "Maybe it makes sense for other parts of Canada, but in Whistler we rely on the foreign workers, as everyone knows, wherever they come from."

But despite the current struggles, Mehta says it's all a part of doing business,

"We've had times where we've done really well, and this is going to be one of the times where the business suffers a little bit," he said. "It's a fact of doing business and I don't like to complain."

Staff at the Bearfoot Bistro have been feeling the pinch as well.

"Our team has to work extended hours, and there's an increase in labour costs because you have to pay overtime," said Bearfoot's marketing manager Marc Des Rosiers.

"This is due to the foreign worker program situation."

The Bearfoot has approached its staffing troubles by trying to get creative with recruitment, Des Rosiers said, offering full-time, year-round positions, or working with culinary schools to recruit new cooks.

"It's now up to us to reach out to people and to promote ourselves in order for us to attract those people," Des Rosiers said.

The staffing shortage is being felt across the entire resort, said Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin.

"I'm definitely getting calls from businesses, especially in food and beverage," he said.

The Whistler Chamber continues to work with the provincial government to lobby the feds for exemptions to the new TFWP rules, Litwin said, adding that there are reasons for optimism.

In April, Yellowknife was granted its own exemption from the TFWP hiring ban.

"The province continues to be a great ally in this push, and I'm positive in the sense that we have seen exceptions," Litwin said.

"I think our case continues be strong, and mostly because I think Whistler is always so proactive about helping itself. We continue to have a very innovative business community in terms of its hiring practices. Businesses here are not strangers to recruiting very aggressively out of market, and not just into the Lower Mainland, across the country as well."

For now, Litwin said local businesses would have to keep focusing on best practices around recruitment.

"So don't rely on one or two channels, recruit out of market," he said.

"Really look at your business model and find out if your margins have room to increase that hourly wage in such a way that it's not killing the model."

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