Workers weigh in on labour shortage 

Little things add up when recruiting, workers say

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - SIGN OF THE TIMES Signs like this one are a common sight in Whistler Village.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • SIGN OF THE TIMES Signs like this one are a common sight in Whistler Village.

With labour woes dominating the headlines locally and beyond, one Whistler worker wants to give a voice to the workforce, saying the discussion to date has been one-sided.

"It does certainly seem to be one-sided at this point with the (Whistler) Chamber of Commerce and the RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler), and I feel like oftentimes they're just paying lip service to the idea that companies are paying the best wages that they can and giving the best benefits," Jason Town said.

"I think (employers), especially the larger corporations in town, could certainly be paying their workers better and doing more."

Town has lived and worked in Whistler for a total of six years — he's currently employed as a bartender, a bellman and as a part-time bike guide.

His first stint in Whistler started back in 2000.

"It certainly seems more short staffed now," Town said. "I do think that people are working longer and harder, certainly, and being asked to work more shifts and more hours with less time off."

With the labour discussion front and centre, Town is considering starting a worker's association to discuss the issues important to Whistler's workforce.

He said he's sympathetic to small business owners and understands it's not cheap to do business in Whistler, but "why do the workers always have to take it on the back?" he asked.

"Everything else is expensive, so we can't afford to pay wages, so let's bring in cheap workers? That kind of seems backwards to me. It's a bigger problem that we need to fix. If the only way we can run Whistler is by bringing in cheap workers because rent and everything else is taking too much money, then there's a problem."

Whistler acknowledges the problem, but there doesn't seem to be an all-encompassing solution.

Ru Mehta, owner of Samurai Sushi, has taken it on himself to recruit long-term employees by securing a number of beds to be used as staff housing.

The move has already helped him attract new hires.

"It's not just about trying to get employees in a competitive market, it's important when they're here and they're working that they're actually enjoying themselves here," Mehta said.

"If these young people are coming to town and they can't find a place to live and it's stressful, and they have to pay exorbitant rates and they're sharing four or five people to a room... then their whole experience of Whistler is not enjoyable."

One of Town's coworkers, Australian Matt Ruming, thinks Whistler could learn a thing or two from Vail Resorts in Colorado.

Ruming spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons in Vail.

"The pay situation in Vail is probably the same, but there's a lot of other benefits for the people that didn't necessarily work for the mountain that made things cheaper in the long run," Ruming said.

For example, a worker's ski pass at Vail — which gives access to more than a half dozen ski areas as well as discounts on clothes and gear — cost Ruming about half what he pays for a discounted Whistler Blackcomb pass.

"That's one of the biggest differences I've noticed, is that Whistler seems very money grabbing and everything is really expensive, yet you're working for peanuts," Ruming said.

He also suggested Whistler take a close look at Vail's transportation system, which offers free buses.

"I don't know, I guess I was spoiled in Vail," Ruming said. "The transportation is extensive and it's all free."

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