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Posted: August 25, 2015

Abundance of visitors greeted by labour shortage

Fernie businesses have been hit hard by the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

In a recreational community like Fernie that sees over 300,000 visitors a year and has a year-round population just under 5,000, businesses rely on a variety of worker programs including holiday working visas and temporary foreign workers, whether hiring under the former labour market opinion or the more recent labour market impact assessment.

Fernie Busy2Members of the business community including the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, Ann’s Independent Grocery, 7-11, A&W, Canadian Tire, Fernie Lodging Company, Park Place Lodge and The Brick House filled City of Fernie council chambers’ on Monday, August 24, for the Committee of the Whole meeting.

The discussion was to update council on present labour shortage challenges facing local businesses and seek city support in finding solutions and working with other levels of government.

Despite advertising nationally, most Fernie businesses in the tourism/hospitality, food and beverage, and retail industries are operating short staffed.

Shortages as high as 45%, or the equivalent of 30 employees in some operations, are seen in some businesses even though continuous advertising occurs. A number of businesses spoke about bringing employees from Eastern Canada out to work, but even that is difficult because they are not getting applications.

Matt Brazeau of the Brick House stated that he has job postings continually on sites like Kijiji and EK Employment. One job posting received 1,800 views but yielded only one job applicant.

Housing remains another challenge to filling the staff shortages. Many employees find that they must share a multi-room home with nine or 10 people to afford living here.

The BC Non-Profit Housing Associations survey states, “in Fernie, renter households earning less than $22,037 and living in two bedroom units pay an average of 93% of their income each month on rent plus utilities.”

Fernie BusyThere was discussion from city council about businesses offering staff accommodations or creating a housing cooperative. Sheila Byers of Park Place Lodge responded that they have been advertising manager positions with accommodation available and are still not receiving applications.

The many businesses at the Committee of the Whole also explained that they are paying living wages and market rates. All businesses indicated that they are paying more than minimum wage with average wages being in the $15-17/hour range.

The challenge remains finding a recruiting pool large enough to fill the shortages seen in our workforce.

“It is very rare that I find a chamber member who is not facing labour shortages. If we cannot find employees to fill these positions, businesses will have no choice but to reduce their hours of operations or services,” stated Patty Vadnais executive director of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. “If that occurs, the whole community loses.”

The business community asked council for their support in addressing these many challenges. One effort can be directed at informing the federal government of the challenges seen in our community. Stats Canada lists the Fernie unemployment rate at 3.7%. A hope from businesses is that Fernie could qualify for an exemption to the temporary foreign worker hiring ban, similar to that received by Yellowknife.

Another approach is for the city to build policy around affordable housing.

In June, the Fernie Family Housing Society presented to council, asking for an updated inventory on rental and housing be completed in Fernie to help inform an updated affordable housing strategy in Fernie. The Chamber of Commerce supported the request from Fernie Family Housing as businesses are indicating it is difficult for staff to find housing.

The business community is also looking for council’s support in advocating for Fernie to the federal government.

Mayor Mary Giuliano explained the difficult process this will be as her conversations with Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks suggest nothing is going to change from their stand point in the foreseeable future. Without action now, Fernie will soon find itself in a position similar to Canmore and Whistler where restaurants and services are closing their doors to give staff time off.

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce represents over 260 business in Fernie and the Elk Valley. Its mission is to strengthen commerce in the Fernie area and is guided by principles of membership, integrity, best- practices, business excellence, and non-partisanship. The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is ‘The Voice of Business in Fernie.’


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