Foods & Culinary

Quebec’s restaurant lobby says the minimum wage hike comes at a “very bad time”.

A small increase in the Quebec minimum wage goes into effect on Saturday 1st Mayand the province’s largest restaurateurs association is not enthusiastic about it.

“Given the current situation, ARQ believes this surge comes at a very bad time for the industry,” says ARQ (originally in French but translated here) in published a statement The minimum wage is expected to increase by $ 0.40 to $ 13.50 and for workers with tips by $ 0.35 to $ 10.80.

Restaurants have been closed to personal service for the past seven months due to government COVID-19 health restrictions. While takeaway and delivery are allowed, the setup only delivers about 30 percent of the revenue it would generate in normal times, according to ARQ. These circumstances are causing half of the fluctuating restaurants in Quebec to consider closing permanently.

“Under these circumstances, raising the minimum wage could worsen the precarious situation of many restaurateurs. The ARQ would have preferred if the government had frozen the increase so that the restaurateurs could get back to normal, ”says the ARQ.

There is a lot to unzip here. The health crisis, as the ARQ says, has certainly resulted in a cascade of financial hardship among employers struggling to stay afloat amid government-mandated mass closings with no clear end in sight and what many consider to be inadequate support . But also the employees in the industry, who literally put their lives on the line every day like they have never done before. Are an extra 40 cents really too much to ask?

If this question, which is meant to be rhetorical, gets a “yes” from restaurateurs and deplores the industry’s low profit margins, then some proponents of the work say it is probably time to reassess the system as a whole and the demands of the industry Pay attention to Canadian workers who are struggling to overcome the branded inequalities in the hospitality industry.

“Whom does it serve to keep wages so low? Who is the ARQ for? Definitely not the workers, who could potentially earn more with EI or CERB, to work 40 hours a week for the minimum wage, even after this meager increase, ”says Ellen Eamon, manager of the venerable Saint-Henri-Pizzeria Elena and a board member of the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (MRWRF). “Employers can’t complain that restaurant workers are leaving in droves, and it’s so difficult to find line chefs if you’re not willing to pay them 40 cents more, no matter what the living wage is. “

This is obvious to many in the industry, and some say it should come as no surprise to restaurant owners and a lobbying group like the ARQ, which represents nearly 5,600 of them in the province, that a number of skilled workers in the industry could be forced into theirs Realign careers when even a blanket government-mandated increase in the minimum wage meets with resistance. Add to this the ongoing risk of getting their job done. the new roles they have had to take on to ensure security is followed when customers collect their groceries from the take-away counters; the fact that they were not considered an essential workforce in the province’s vaccine rollout plans; and all the layers of precariousness that emerged prior to the pandemic; and it becomes clear that not only is a raise justified, but not enough either.

Jesse Massumi, one of the owners of the Little Italy curry shop Pumpui and the highly anticipated newcomer on St-Hubert Street, Pichai, agrees, saying in an email that “Any backlash against a wage increase is an embarrassment for those of us doing our best to keep the tide in.” change in the restaurant industry. ” Rather than advocating better wages, Massumi believes the ARQ should use its position to urge the government to create new tax incentives that will help cash-strapped restaurants offer fair wages and benefits. “Instead of fighting our own workforce, our industry should organize itself to achieve a fairer future.”

Massumi refers to a multiple choice poll that is currently being published on the ARQ homepage and which he describes as “narrative”. The survey asks readers what solutions they recommend to address the labor shortage. The three options are: exchanging tips between the front and back of the house, training and recruiting from alternative labor pools, and facilitating and accelerating the recruitment process abroad. “Perhaps the fourth choice should be: living wages, health benefits, and paid sick leave?” Massumi suggests.

While the ARQ cites the pressures of the pandemic as the reason for their rejection of the impending raise, they weren’t concerned about it in 2017 either, and that was long before the coronavirus distorted the industry. At the time, the Eater lobby group said that more employee compensation would force owners to make delicate decisions about whether or not to increase menu prices.

However, passing the cost on to the consumer is a plausible option, says Eamon, and one that Elena has successfully resorted to during the pandemic. The restaurant increased the delivery price by 10 percent in December to get a guaranteed tip for staff. “We were so concerned that our customers would be offended or unable to pay 10 percent more. Nobody bothered, nobody noticed. Customers pay more for something they want. We as employers and owners just need to be willing to take this risk for the financial well-being of our employees who literally take a risk every day to serve the public. ”

Massumi sums it up like this: “If your business model is based on available minimum wage labor, you are part of the problem.”

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