Restaurant owners say Quebec needs more immigrants to fill jobs

Quebec's restaurant owners are issuing a cry for help: the province needs more immigrants, they say, to deal with a labour shortage.

The Association Restauration Quebec made its case Tuesday at the hearings on the CAQ's new immigration policy at the National Assembly.

 The group's vice-president Francois Meunier shared his views with the committee that's looking at immigration targets for the next three years.

Meunier told the committee he travelled across the province this summer and saw restaurants closed up to three days a week on Monday through Wednesday, affecting profitability.

The Quebec Employers Council also spoke at the committee on Tuesday, and the lobby group echoed those concerns about restaurants closing during the week, saying that it affects the economy. The problem isn't a lack of clientele, though, it's a shortage of workers: cooks, waiters and kitchen staff.

"We have 120,000 jobs vacant at this time, and it goes from unskilled workers to highly qualified people. So we need a large spread of qualifications. In fact, half of the jobs that need to be filled right now don't even require a high school diploma. These jobs cannot be filled at the moment, so we need people coming from other countries to fill these jobs," said Denis Hamel, vice-president of the Quebec Employers Council.

In the spring, Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet acknowledged restaurants have been particularly hard hit by the province's labour shortage, in part because of an ageing population.

In April, Quebec launched a new short-term training program to train kitchen staff in nine regions across the province. It also launched a PR campaign targeting a cross-section of employees: older, experienced workers, immigrants and people with disabilities.

It seems that it hasn't been enough, though. Restaurant owners say what they really need is more foreign workers to fill jobs – and so they want the government to boost immigration levels.