A week ago, Lloyd Hillier thought he’d have to close his Jungle Jim’s restaurant in Happy Valley-Goose Bay because he didn’t have enough staff.
But after Hillier went public with his plight, interested cooks began contacting him.
“I got lots of phone calls, as you can well imagine, and some cooks were very interested in coming in,” Hillier said today.
“So, I was able to acquire three brand new cooks that will be arriving here later tonight. Nothing changes. We’ll be open forever, hopefully.”
One of the cooks is from the island and the other two are from the Toronto area.
Hillier said the Muskrat Falls project has made it impossible to hire locally trained cooks. In his 33 years in business, this is the first time he’s had trouble hiring staff.
“Everybody here who’s a cook, guess where they’re going? They’re going to Muskrat where they pay the big bucks,” said Hillier, who pays his cooks between $14-$18 an hour.
“We don’t pay the big bucks. I can’t sell french fries for $25 a plate and pay cooks $40 an hour. I can’t do that. If I do, I don’t sell any french fries.”
And federal government’s restrictions on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program meant Hillier was unable to replace several cooks who are leaving Tuesday.
The rule that affected Hillier the most is the one that restricts businesses in areas of high unemployment from accessing the program.
Even though Happy Valley-Goose Bay has relatively low unemployment, Labrador is grouped with the Northern Peninsula and western Newfoundland when the rate is calculated, which increases the unemployment percentage for Labrador.
Hillier said the situation has been tough on his staffs. If he wasn’t able to find any cooks, 25 employees could have lost their jobs.
Jungle Jim’s may have been saved, but other businesses in the province are also facing a choice of cutting hours or closing doors for lack of employees.
According to advocates for business owners in the restaurant and seafood processing sectors, labour shortages — especially in low skill, low wage and entry-level jobs — have been exacerbated by changes to the foreign worker program.
“I think you’re going to see a combination of a shrinkage in hours and higher prices,” said Luc Erjavec, the vice-president of Restaurants Canada responsible for Atlantic Canada.
“We’re very concerned with the fallout on a number of levels — on the business level, the employee level, the provincial level and ultimately on the customer level.”
He said restaurants in the province generally work with small profit margins and paying more to attract labour translates into higher bills for restaurants and their customers.