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Staffing shortage is not so simple

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Last week’s (July 11) cover story on the workforce shortage in the area focused on local businesses that are struggling to find workers to fill shifts, sometimes resulting in shutdowns and decreased hours. On the other side of that equation, some individuals are saying they are ready and willing to work, but they are just not getting a call.

Siddharth Jain, a 24-year Port Aux Basques resident said that from September to December 2021 he applied everywhere he could think of and never got a call back.

“I had around 20 resumes printed in September, and I applied everywhere near to where I live. So that’s Home Hardware, Canadian Tire, Tim Horton’s, Irving, Foodland, Rossy, Buck or Two. I applied everywhere multiple times and never got a call back to date.”

Jain said he worked for St. Christopher’s Hotel for about a month when they had a shortage of cooks and he really liked working there, but the hotel had to let him go because they had no vacancies. After so long with no responses, Jain admits he feels defeated.

“In December and January, I didn’t even go looking out for any jobs. I just asked around with people and they would tell me there are vacancies to places I’ve already applied.”

He eventually applied to numerous places once again, and finally got a job at another business in March; however, he left the position a few weeks ago, citing a toxic work environment. Jain spoke with management about the situation, but it did not get resolved.

“I approached the manager and the owner on multiple occasions.”

After reading last week’s story, Jain says that he was shocked to hear of a regional workforce shortage when he has been diligently searching for work. After leaving his last job, he still hasn’t gotten a single call back.

“I don’t know what they were feeling because I’m not really good at reading people, but they did have vacancies and I have proof of that because my roommate, he came here from St. John’s. He applied at Foodland the same time as I did, maybe a week later than me actually, and they got back to him immediately and offered him a job that he held until his course was complete.”

Jain doesn’t understand why, considering his work experience and work ethic, he hasn’t gotten a single call for an interview.

“It’s really strange to me. I’m looking for jobs continuously. I can work seven days a week. I don’t mind that. I just cannot find any jobs sadly,” said Jain. “If there is a shortage and they have résumés lying around, why don’t they call me? I’m ready to work.”

Ashley White says problems don’t just lie with not getting a call, but with how employees are treated, making people not want to work at specific businesses.

“A couple of places that I’ve worked, you did not get your 15-minute breaks, no dinner breaks, and also, one place I worked I was denied to use the bathroom a couple of times.”

White spoke about a former job where she was not allowed to go to the bathroom for over two hours while she was on her period, and knew she needed to go get changed before an accident occurred.

“I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) so there were times I felt I had to call in sick because I could be denied to use the bathroom, because it had happened before. So some of these workers might be calling in sick, not giving their best, because they’re not getting treated fairly.”

White said changing schedules and lack of hours is something she also experienced, which also forced her decision to leave a job.

“When I worked another place, I was an employee, and then they took on a grant, so then my hours and another worker – who actually had to leave and find work elsewhere – could be cut. After that I thought, ‘You know what? I don’t need this job,’ and I gave it up because, once again, they were applying for a grant and I would’ve lost hours anyway. And it would’ve left me in a situation where I would be on call, which was not fair. I was a regular employee.”

White has worked on grants in the past, and says having to take shifts, even the less desirable ones, made getting daycare more difficult, and believes grants are taking over.

“When you worked on a grant, you took the evening shifts, you took the weekends. So when it turned around to be, ‘This grant worker is going to get these hours because they don’t want to work the weekends; these other shifts will be put on you,’ then my childcare became an issue, so I didn’t stay for the bad hours and the trouble with childcare.”

Childcare availability is a major issue for a lot of working parents, and things have only gotten more difficult because of the pandemic.

“Since COVID, if you’re sick, you have to stay home. If you’ve got a sick child you’ve got to stay home with your child because no one will want to come and babysit. Then you’re going to get sick and you could be missing up to two weeks of work, which is no one’s fault.”

White said she doesn’t know how parents are able to do it now.

“If your kid can’t go to school and you can’t get anybody, you’ve got to miss work, especially with the COVID rules. How did the employers take that? You couldn’t treat anyone like crap for not coming in. Everyone had to follow the rules during COVID.”

White had a difficult time when she wanted to return to the workforce after giving birth.

“After I had Emily, I applied all over Port Aux Basques and I couldn’t find anything. So I had to take grant jobs. I took them.”

Were it not for childcare difficulties, White says she would work tomorrow, just not at a place where she can’t get a break or use the bathroom.

“This is a small town. People talk, and you hear these stories about bad situations. It makes you want to steer clear of these areas.”

Jain maintains that saying people don’t want to work, and perpetuating the idea that they are lazy, only serves to demotivate potential employees and drives them away from a lot of jobs, and maybe that’s why people think that nobody wants to work.

“They say that people are not willing to work, but it’s not that people aren’t willing to work. Everybody wants to make a living. Nobody wants to sit at home idle, but somehow – it’s not my opinion but people I’ve worked with have told me – there are some unrealistic expectations for people you work for around here and they cannot fulfill them. Most of them, they are in their forties and fifties. So me, I’m just 24 and can work harder than some. When I reach my forties, I wouldn’t be able to work how they are working right now. So there are unrealistic expectations for people to work so hard. They can’t work like a machine 24/7. They don’t run like that.”

Ally Hatcher, another Port Aux Basques resident, said she hasn’t personally experienced a bad boss; however, there is another reason she believes people aren’t able to work.

“The main issue is no one can afford to work. When you do the math, if you are working minimum wage and getting a little over $1,200 a month in wages and your rent is 600 plus, not including lights and heat which can be $400 plus, and you also need to eat. That’s not including transportation to and from, which is very costly whether it’s by cab or by your own vehicle. It’s not that people are too lazy. It’s that they can’t afford it. There’s no affordable housing in our town and on top of that you pay town tax to work in town. The cost of living is sky rocketing. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It’s time the municipal, provincial and federal government start realizing everyone is suffering with everything going up.”

Some businesses in Port aux Basques, such as Home Hardware, admitted they are lucky enough to have the staff that they need. Over at Rossy’s, Store Manager Darlene Osmond says more staff is needed, but the store doesn’t have enough hours to offer anyone that would pay them enough.

“When COVID was here we lost a lot of hours and, of course, we never got them back. I need someone now, but I can only offer 15 to 20 hours a week. People aren’t going to give something up for 15 to 20 hours a week. That’s my problem here. I haven’t called anybody yet, but I’m sure when I mention to someone that they’re only going to get 15 to 20 hours a week, unless someone calls in sick, they won’t want it.”

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