Quebec restaurant, hotel sectors want feds to loosen foreign worker rules to fix labour shortage

Quebec's hotels and restaurants are dealing with a major labour shortage and they are asking the federal government for help before the high tourist season picks up.

The crowds are back and so are the tours at Jean-Talon market as Montreal is gearing up for its busiest tourism season since the pandemic hit.

While the hotel industry says rooms are getting booked up, there are a lot of vacancies when it comes to jobs.

"We have a great summer ahead, but we need employees," said Jean-Sebastien Boudreault, president of the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal.

Quebec's restaurant and hospitality sectors are short around 30,000 workers, with the biggest need at the back of the house, according to Quebec's restaurant association, the ARQ.

"What we are seeing now is that the lack of workers is [in] the kitchen. We need to find some chefs, some cooks, some line cooks," said ARQ spokesperson Martin Vezina.

The industry is asking the federal government to step in by making it easier for temporary foreign workers to come to Quebec. Employers need to prove that a Canadian can't fill the job — a process that takes time and money.

"Having to pay $1,000 per worker, waiting four to six months to get a paper that confirms what we already know seems kind of stupid," said Boudreault.

If the government does not drop the requirement, businesses say they'll have to cut hours if they haven't already.

"I challenge people in Montreal and other regions of Quebec to find a restaurant that is open Monday," Vezina noted.

Restaurant Gus in Little Italy is closed Mondays. In fact, it's only open Wednesday to Friday. Owner David Ferguson said before the pandemic, he had 11 employees. Now, he has four.

"I can staff [for] three days a week, I work five days a week to make up for all the prep that needs to be done," he said.

He said, however, that relying on temporary foreign workers to fill the labour shortage is not the solution.

"Changing of the permits is not going to change [things]," he said. "Change the cooking schools, change the way in which people think about our industry as being a place that they can work in. We have lots of people in this city who can fill these kinds of jobs."

Until then, Ferguson said the application list will keep shrinking and so, too, will the operating hours.


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