Fast-food restaurants closing as Quebec unemployment rate nears all-time low

Fast-food restaurants in communities across Quebec are having trouble finding staff, with some reducing their hours and others being forced to shut their doors altogether.

McDonald's in Val-d'Or, KFC outlet in Lévis among restaurants shutting their doors

A KFC location in Lévis, Que., is among a number of Quebec restaurants forced to close its doors because of a staffing shortage. (Denis Chartier/Radio-Canada)

With the Quebec unemployment at its lowest rate in decades, Quebec's fast-food industry is struggling to find staff — with some reducing their hours and others being forced to shut their doors altogether.

The latest casualty is a KFC restaurant in Lévis, Que.

Despite a social media recruitment campaign and wages starting above the $11.25 minimum, the restaurant was unable to lure enough workers to remain in operation, said Richard Hébert, director of operations for Olympus Food Canada, which owns the restaurant.

"Certainly, financially, it is not positive," he said.

KFC isn't the only chain struggling due to the labour crunch.

A McDonald's franchise in Val-d'Or also temporarily closed because it couldn't find enough staff, and Tim Hortons recently cut its hours at its outlet in Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon.

Unemployment rate near historic low

Quebec's economy is booming and, in recent months, the unemployment rate has been hovering around six per cent, nearly the lowest it's been since Statistics Canada began keeping track in 1976.

That means employers can expect to have a tougher time filling both skilled positions and low-wage jobs.

The Quebec Restaurant Association has been fielding anxious calls from members.

Martin Vézina, the spokesperson for the Quebec Restaurant Association, said the problem is getting worse.

Restaurants in the Quebec City area have, in particular, struggled to find workers, with one local restaurateur even suggesting the start of school be pushed back to October to ease the labour crunch.

"We have seen a drop of nine per cent of available employees among 18-to-25 year olds, which traditionally make up our labour pool," Vézina said.

Isabelle Leblanc was forced to temporarily close her McDonald's in Val-d'Or because she couldn't find enough workers to staff all shifts. (Jean-Marc Belzile/Radio-Canada)

Isabelle Leblanc, who was forced to temporarily close her McDonald's franchise in Val-d'Or, said she couldn't find enough workers, and service suffered.

"It's certain that when three people are missing during a busy stretch, it's the customers who pay for it. The service is not as fast, there are errors," she said recently.

Will wages follow suit?

Fabian Lange, an economics professor at McGill University, sees in the trend an opportunity to drive up wages and benefits in traditionally low-income sectors.

Quebec has been a laggard when it comes to minimum wage, only committing to a $12.45 per hour wage by 2020.

Ontario, meanwhile, is working its way up to a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2019.

"Strong demand for low-paid workers relative to its supply is the only sustaining way to lift improve outcomes for low paid workers," Lange said in an email.

Protesters gathered in Montreal last year to demand a $15 minimum hourly working wage in the province of Quebec. That's not slated to happen anytime soon. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Jean-Guy Côté, an associate director at the Institut du Québec, said it's too soon to say if reports of labour shortages in the fast-food industry will have a ripple effect throughout the labour market.

"Generally, in these kind of industries, the salaries are very close to the minimum, so if you see an increase in other industries, you will see them move out of that," he said.

He noted that jobs in science and technology and in engineering have also been hard to fill and that immigration will be needed to counterbalance the province's aging workforce.

With files from Radio-Canada’s Guylaine Bussière


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