Higher wages, bonuses: Quebec employers change their approach as worker shortage continues

Flipping burgers has never been so lucrative.

At Five Guys on Ste-Catherine St., one flyer advertises $15 an hour for prospective employees, plus tips and a bonus.

That's how hard it is to find staff.

And it's not just food services -- Quebec is also short 3,000 truck drivers and 25,000 manufacturing workers.

In all, the province has 200,000 jobs that need to be filled.

"This can be explained by the fact that the labour market is decreasing every year. So you have more who are leaving the labour market or retiring than coming in," said Veronique Proulx, president and general director of Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec (MEQ).

Job recruiter Stephanie Lanoi has seen the effects of this phenomenon first-hand; she says suitable candidates are frequently hired for above the listed salary.

"I’ve seen people asking for maybe $15,000 more and people are giving it to them, a lot of people are giving signing bonuses," said Lanoi, who works for Proforce Personnel, an employee recruitment agency.

There are people out there, but many of them aren't working.

According to the latest numbers, $243,000 Quebecers are currently on Employment Insurance (EI), and 119,000 are on the Canada Recovery Benefit, formerly known as the CERB.

"Some people are still on the CERB and are [saying,] ‘well I’m making just as much money as if I was going to work so why would I go to work if I’m still on the CERB?’" said Lanoi.

The MEQ has been pushing the government to increase immigration levels and make it easier to welcome foreign temporary workers.

Without this, Veronique Proulx says many companies will have no choice but to downsize their Quebec operations.

"Between 15 to 20 per [told us they're] thinking of relocating up to 50 per cent [of] operations in other countries," she said.

But it's not all bleak -- while some industries are facing worker shortages, economist David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says other sectors such as office workers are doing well.

"It's not so much that people are missing, it’s that over the course of three or four lockdowns, people who have been laid off and hired back have decided that maybe food services isn’t right for them, and they’ve sought employment elsewhere," he said.

Macdonald says employers will therefore have to offer better pay and conditions to entice job candidates, which could hurt industries that rely on low wages.

It could also mean the price of your burger could reflect the nearly $20 wage of the person who made it.

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