I have a lot of friends who work in restaurants, be it on a count of a depressed economy, by choice, as a stop-gap to total poverty, or as a means to fund school. I've also heard a lot of horror stories about the industry; physical assaults, sexual harrassment, and unpaid wages seem to be the norm. From what I can ascertain the whole industry is a cesspool of workplace law violations and is predicated on harassing staff, long hours, stress, frequent burnout, and rampant addiction issues.
Generally, food service industry jobs are a precarious form of employment that doesn't over much in the way of security, good wages, or a basis from which a young person can build a life. With that in mind it was with great interest that I read an article this past weekend in the Globe discussing the labour shortages in Toronto's burgeoning restaurant scene and the "problems" that restauranteurs face in hiring staff. This blog post is going to comment on the article, make a few observations, and offer some tips to young workers in the food service industry.
The Globe article interviews a number of players in Toronto's restaurant scene, but the focus of the article ends up being on Rob Rossi, the chef at the new restaurant Bestellen. I've never met Rossi, but I suspect he cried a lot as a child as he whines his way through a litany of complaints about the problems he has encounted hiring staff, such as: interviewing countless people, outrageous salary demands (a living wage is always outrageous), young inexperienced staff, the transitory nature of employees in the industry, and the dedication of his staff.
Boo hoo! Rossi seems like a reall swell boss and is clearly the norm within the industry. His comments point to some of the bizarre and deeper developments that have occurred within Canada's labour market and the attitudes that Canadian employers have developed over the past thirty odd years.
Within the new economy employers are typically no longer willing to train new employees and frequently demand fully formed workers from day one as a way to save costs in on-boarding employees, increase productivity, and avoid serving as training ground for their competitiors. In a labour market where the entry level job is an increasingly extinct species, one either has to have the exact skills the employers needs or has to engaged in unpaid work (read internship or a training program) to develop the necessary skill set for the industry.
This situation is a recent development within the labour market and can be traced back to the impact of neoliberal public policy through developments like governments not engaging in meaningful labour market planning, the imposed flexibility of corporate cost-cutting measures, workplace laws not responding to wider changes in the economy, and the lack of funding for programs that transition young people from school into the labour market.
The end result of all of this is that young workers get taken advantage of in the food service industry through employment standards being avoid, overtime pay not being provided, not paying back wages and a climate of fear where people are afraid to assert their rights. In situations where people are living paycheque to paycheque it's intimidating to ask for something that may well get you fired.
If you suspect you've experienced a violation of your rights, get informed about the Employment Standards Act and obtain legal advice. In the downtown core of Toronto there are a number of organizations that provide free legal assistance to workers who have had their rights violated, these are: Parkdale Community Legal Services, the Workers' Action Centre, West Toronto Community Legal Services, Kensington Bellwoods Community Legal Services, and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. Also, if you really want to protect yourself in the workplace and have like minded co-workers, the UFCW-Canada and UNITE HERE respresent workers in the food service industry. In closing, here's an excellent video from CTV Victoria exposing a common scenario that young workers face, see: