We like stories, right? Let me start out with one.
Back when I lived in the bustling metropolis of small town, Alberta, Tim Hortons decided to open a restaurant in our sleepy burb. This was after years of townspeople lobbying everyone who would listen, including impassioned pleas to Tim Hortons’ management, because some people are barely on this side of being creepy stalkers.
Around the same time, the house next door to me finally sold after a few months on the market. I was never inside the place (mostly because the old man hated me after I had a house warming party that got a little out of hand) but I heard the place was like time traveling back to the 1970s.
In Alberta, there was a labor shortage. There are a few certain skilled jobs that are still begging for employees, but for the most part the shortage was in the lower end of the job market. Former fast food employees abandoned their posts for more money in the oil patch, leaving openings for the bottom 5% of society that, for whatever reason, can’t hold down a job. This persisted for a handful of years, and then the oil field started to lay off their bottom rung employees.
Back when the shortage was really bad, fast food owners sought a solution. And in Alberta, it meant bringing in a whole bunch of temporary foreign workers (TFWs). Hailing mostly from the Philippines, restauranteurs brought in employees by the thousands. It got to the point where you’d show up at McDonalds and every employee there would be Asian.
This wasn’t such a bad thing. Immigrants would come in as TFWs, bide their time, and eventually end up getting established enough to become permanent citizens. They pay taxes, volunteer in the community, and become worthy neighbors. I know plenty of them.
Getting back to the Tim Hortons franchisee, he did what a lot of employers started to do. He supplied housing for his new TFWs. He’d give them space in a large house, filled with other newly landed immigrants, which would make the transition much smoother. The house was about a 10 minute walk from work, and was close to Walmart, other fast food places, and so on.
On the surface, it looked like a win-win.
But, he got greedy. Rather than looking at the house as an expense needed to do business, he set the rent at a point where his workers were dissatisfied with it. The setup lasted about six months before the plug was pulled and the place was rented to a traditional set of tenants.
You probably have heard the news by now that the feds shut down the program that allowed fast food places to import TFWs en masse. Restaurants have already started to complain to the media, claiming that worker shortages have already started to affect them. Some have even threatened to shut down for a day or two a week, or even shut down completely.
But really, they brought it upon themselves.
Plenty of restauranteurs abused the system. They tried to recoup the cost of bringing in these workers by doing unethical stuff like charging them more for preferred housing. Some employers have even taken it a step farther, bringing in more TFWs while cutting the hours of Canadian staff members, believing TFWs work harder. Some even refuse to hire Canadian workers, in a odd sort of reverse racism. Immigrants to get to Canada often lobby employers to hire family members, turning the system into a nepotistic farce.
It’s little wonder the program has been suspended.
How will this affect you? You’ll be waiting a little longer for fast food. I wouldn’t be surprised if restaurants use this as an excuse to temporarily cut back on staff. And if your favorite eatery does have to shut down for one day a week, expect a hilariously self-righteous note on the door.
But long term, this will force restaurants to hire the same people they did a decade ago before this whole boom happened. They survived back then, and they’ll survive now. Plus, most places have a bunch of experienced immigrants that graduated from the TFW program. It’s a good change, even if you’ll have to wait a little longer for your Baconator.