Rocky Mountain hotels and restaurants doubt aid will arrive in time for summer tourist season

Steven Calderon says he doesn’t mind working nearly 75 hours a week. He has two jobs at a restaurant in Banff and some of those hours are to cover jobs that aren’t filled or to take over for co-workers who are exhausted and need a break.

“I like it, so it’s fine,” said Calderon, 30, while taking a break to chop some onions.

He obtained a working holiday permit and arrived in Canada from Costa Rica last fall. It’s helping fill what Rocky Mountain townspeople call a labor shortage — and a crisis.

Hundreds if not a few thousand jobs in Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore are not being filled.

Hoteliers, restaurateurs, labor specialists and recruiters welcome changes to the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) that were announced last month. However, they say they are unlikely to see any benefits this year – and due to treatment delays they fear help will not arrive until 2024.

“It does not provide immediate solutions,” said Stéphane Prévost, the chef and co-owner of two restaurants in Banff, Block Kitchen and Bar and Shoku Izakaya.

“We are in a crisis situation,” he said.

Steven Calderon from Costa Rica has been in Banff since October 2021, when his working holiday request was approved. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Prevost, who hired Calderon last year, says wages have already been raised but the industry is desperate to fill jobs ahead of a possible surge in summer visitors.

Last summer, it had to close one or two days a week because it didn’t have enough employees.

“There just weren’t enough staff and burnt out staff…it was hard to keep up with the demand.”

Walk down Banff Avenue and you’ll see that almost every business has a sign in their window asking for help.

Changes to the TFWP allow sectors experiencing labor shortages – including hospitality and food services – to hire more employees from overseas and, in some cases, those employees can stay longer. long time. The province, which works alongside the federal government on labor and immigration issues, lifted restrictions this month to allow employers greater access to international workers.

Stéphane Prévost owns two restaurants in Banff. He describes the labor shortage as a “crisis”. He says the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are a positive step, but it could take a year or more for help to arrive. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Prevost says the changes will allow him to hire up to 30% of his staff under the TFWP, but he says the process is time-consuming and expensive, and applications are facing processing delays.

It has already reduced operating hours and increased prices to cover additional labor costs.

“For an experienced cook position, [the wage] went to $19 more [per hour.]. There are a lot of places that have started offering $20 an hour or more,” he said.

That’s an increase of $2 to $3 an hour over the past two years. The minimum wage in Alberta is $15 an hour.

“We need to raise prices so we can make this all work,” he said.

“It’s a real challenge”

The Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association hopes the revamped TFWP will help, but is asking for more changes.

“I would say the temporary foreign worker share needs to be removed. We need access to the global workforce and we need to have the ability to move through it faster and cheaper,” said Trevor Long, association president and general manager of the 333-room Rimrock Resort Hotel.

A woman enters the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff. The general manager encourages people to plan their vacations early to avoid disappointment associated with potential capacity limits related to labor shortages. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“How long it will take, even if it will be available for us in 2023, is one of the unknowns and concerns that we have. It’s a real challenge,” Long said.

Long says his team submitted applications for four workers under the TFWP in January 2021 — they were told the wait would extend until next spring.

“There needs to be careful consideration and change of how we access workers in Canada,” he said.

Trevor Long is General Manager of the Rimrock Resort Hotel and President of the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association. He says it’s taking too long for the federal government to process workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Long, who has worked at the resort for nearly three decades, says some operators offer bonuses and other incentives to lure people to Banff and Lake Louise, but it’s hard to attract domestic workers.

He says industry group Tourism HR Canada predicts labor shortages will continue through 2028.

Hundreds, thousands of jobs

The director of the Banff and Canmore Job Resource Center wonders where all the applicants have gone.

The centre, located just off Banff Avenue, was empty on a recent visit. The job board, however, was filled with job postings for general labor, trades, office administration, hospitality, food and beverage, health care, and sales.

“We have gone from what we have called a staff shortage for many years to what we now call a staff shortage,” said Michel Dufresne.

Several restaurants and retail businesses in Banff reduced their hours earlier this year in part due to a shortage of workers. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Dufresne says that traditionally large labor reserves from the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario would venture west to work. They would be joined by workers from Australia, France, New Zealand, Japan and 30 other eligible countries who have come in the past under International Experience Canada’s working holiday program.

But he says they don’t come in the same numbers as before.

“We don’t know if it’s because there’s a backlog in immigration or if it’s because these people aren’t ready to travel yet. But they’re not here, that’s all. that we know,” he said.

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, employers recruit people who will work exclusively for them for a set period of time. Under the working holiday scheme, employees are free to work for whoever they want and can stay for up to two years – there is also a clearer path to permanent residency.

Dufresne says there are about 250 positions posted at the center right now, with some employers looking to fill multiple positions. He says the number of vacancies could actually be in the thousands.

Fewer foreign workers, higher domestic wages?

Statistics Canada estimates that the number of job vacancies in Alberta reached 88,350 in February, the most recent month for which statistics are available.

An expert on Canada’s immigration and refugee policy agrees the changes announced by the federal government will do little to help employers this year.

Robert Falconer is a research associate at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. He says employers appear to have reached a limit on how much they are willing to pay for these vacancies and some are hoping foreign workers can fill the void.

“When employers say they are struggling to find domestic workers, what they are really saying is that they are struggling to find domestic workers at a price that works for them,” he said. -he declares.

“We have to wonder if they could maybe raise the wages of domestic workers?”

International flags fly outside a hotel on Lynx Street. The tourism, hotel and restaurant industry says it has hundreds of vacancies to fill ahead of a potentially busy summer season. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Falconer says he has no intention of criticizing employers. He says the TFWP is a benefit for people who come to Canada, many of whom return some of their earnings to help improve the lives of their families back home.

He says it’s also worth considering if fewer foreign workers are allowed into the country, would domestic workers see a pay rise for those same positions? Or conversely, now that quotas on foreign workers have increased, will wages remain low for Canadians?

Based on recent job postings, the center says wages in hospitality, tourism and restaurants rose 60 cents to $2.73 an hour for jobs in the hospitality sectors. food and beverage, hotel services and travel and tourism.

And the industry is still wondering where the candidates have gone.

A “delicate dance”

The executive director of the Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association calls it a “delicate dance” that will unfold this summer as operators scramble to meet customer demand and service expectations.

“It’s this delicate dance of trying to cobble together people who can work extra shifts, people who work on the front lines of supervision and management,” Darren Reeder said.

Reeder says foreign workers who were here had to leave during the pandemic and have not returned. He also says the industry hasn’t done a good enough job of promoting the industry as a viable career choice rather than short-term seasonal work.

The Hudson’s Bay store in Banff offers benefits and full-time employment. Almost every storefront in the mountain town has a Help Wanted sign in their window. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Another hurdle, he says, is competition with an oil and gas sector that is “on fire” and has drawn people to service-sector jobs elsewhere in Alberta.

“It destabilizes overall tourism employment in our sector,” Reeder said.

He would like to see a specific hospitality and tourism program to attract foreign workers who would have a clear path to permanent residency.

“Let’s make sure we build a program that meets the needs of the regions by season and by profession, so that we can revive this industry and contribute to the Canadian economy.”

Back at Shoku Izakaya, Calderon says his next goal is to get another work permit, which could lead to a permanent stay.

“So yeah, that’s fine. Permanent residency and maybe staying here a bit longer,” he said.

This is also what his employers hope.

bryan Labby is a corporate reporter at CBC Calgary. If you have a great story idea or piece of advice, you can reach him at or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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