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Labour crisis like nothing Vancouver restaurateur has ever seen

'The industry is broken'

Robert Belcham has never seen anything like it.

“Never in the history of my 25-year career has the labour shortage been so dire, and I don’t see an end to it anytime soon.”

After more than 25 years in the restaurant business, the co-owner of Granville Island’s Popina Canteen and Popina Cantina is grappling with the worst labour crisis his industry has ever faced.

While B.C. restaurants are in the middle of the peak summer season, a massive struggle to retain employees continues to grow. As the cost of living in Metro Vancouver keeps rising, workers often can’t make a viable living wage.

According to Belcham, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem but it was already a major issue before the pandemic.

“The pandemic totally cracked it open; it exposed all of the bad parts of our industry and we have an opportunity now to fix it.”

Many restaurants in the province are now being forced to reduce hours and simplify menus to deal with the ongoing dilemma.

So, what needs to be done?

“It’s pretty obvious what needs to change and it needs to change across the board and that’s just how people are treated in the restaurant business. It has to be treated more like how every other industry is, where people aren’t pushed to their limits because of stress, because of the amount of hours worked, and because of low pay,” says Belcham.

Despite the woes facing his industry, Belcham does see a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

“The one saving grace that the restaurant industry has is it’s unbelievably adaptable. We’ll be able to figure it out, it’s just how long is it going to take and what are we gonna be able to get out of it?”



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