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Employers face staffing shortages

Is the CERB to blame for staffing shortages and store hour cutbacks? Some local businesses seem to think so.. – © Gerd Altman / Pixabay

By RYAN KING

PORT AUX BASQUES – Now that the province is opening up again so are the help wanted signs. But some businesses are finding it a bit more difficult to hire and retain new employees. Some business owners seem to agree that the introduction of the CERB, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, may be among the contributing factors.

The benefit was introduced during the pandemic, a measure implemented by the Federal Liberals to provide financial support to employed and self-employed workers whose incomes were directly affected by COVID-19. It is available to workers above the age of 15, who have either stopped working because of reasons related to the virus, are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) or sickness benefits, or have exhausted their regular EI benefits.

At $2,000 per month (less deductions), CERB matches exactly the province’s $12.50 per hour minimum wage, but even employers that offer more than that are having trouble finding people to fill positions.

The impact of the worker shortage can be seen at the Irving gas station, which has put on a job fair. Typically such events are reserved for larger companies looking for trade-workers, like oil field companies.

Daphne Harvey, Manager of the Port aux Basques Circle K Irving gas station, says that, “We’re really short of staff right now, and we’re trying to get some people to try to apply here at the store. So, my boss, my market manager I was talking to yesterday, asked me about a job fair. I said ‘Well, I’m not sure what a job fair entails,’ but he said, ‘Like maybe something we could look into doing.’ I was like, ‘Yes,’ and tomorrow we said around noon we’re going to have a job fair.”

One reason for the fair is to get people hired quickly who might be deterred by the somewhat complicated process of applying through online portals.

“With our company you’ve gotta go on this place called Workday (or) Indeed to apply, and it’s a little bit confusing sometimes for people, so we want them to come in here and we’ll show them how to get everything set up and get everything moving forward so they can get hired on fairly quickly,” says Harvey.

Furthermore, Harvey says she has noticed an increase in staffing turnover in her business since the introduction of CERB.

“In the last couple of weeks I’ve lost eight (employees). After this Wednesday coming, I’ll have eight employees gone through the door in less than a month, maybe about three weeks. So after like next week, I’m not going to have enough people to run the hours at the store that it is open for,” admits Harvey.

That will mean a reduction in store hours, which translates into even more congestion at the store to service customers.

“I’ve been managing this store for 20-odd years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. Like we’ve always managed to get a few people coming, but now that everybody is in the same boat as what I am, it’s very difficult to get anybody here,” says Harvey.

She admits that she is at a loss to a solution, though the business is doing what it can to get people hired back into the workforce.

“We need to try to stand ourselves out from the rest,” says Harvey. “If you were paying a bit more above minimum wage, but I don’t even think that matters anymore because everybody is talking about the money. You work four weeks, or 120 hours, whatever it is, and they can go home and draw top unemployment for so many weeks. And I said that’s like pretty crazy, but it’s happening.”

The shortage of workers has also affected the Foodland grocery store in Port aux Basques, which has recently reduced its hours of operation for customers, and at least one department will be shutting down.

Store hours for Foodland will still be the same on Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. But on Monday and Tuesday the store will reduce its hours, opening at the regular 8:30 a.m. but closing at 6:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 p.m. The hours will remain unchanged on Wednesday through Friday.

Sobeys, Foodland’s parent company, responded to official inquiries by sharing that staffing is managed at the franchise level and that the store hopes to resume its normal hours as soon as possible.

The Town of Channel-Port aux Basques has also been noticing a lack of workers applying for jobs with the town. While the permanently employed municipal staff level has not been affected, the application for employment under the town’s yearly job grants has not attracted as many applications as it has in previous years.

“From the Town perspective, we wouldn’t have an issue with that, because we’ve got a workforce that comes back every year. For projects like JCPs (Job Creation Partnerships) and stuff it has been a challenge,” says Shauna Strickland, Economic Development Officer. “Not the town employees, but through our grant process every year we bring on grant workers, and we’ve noticed that, you know, normally we get a good influx of applicants, but this past year and a half those applicants are fewer because people are on that CERB program.”

The CERB program is scheduled to end on Sept. 25, 2021.

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