Restaurant owners look to Mexico to fill jobs due to Quebec's labour shortage
A restaurant owner in Quebec City says he’s had to search as far as Mexico to find workers to address the province’s labour shortage.
Quebec's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 40 years, and with 90,000 jobs available, there's fierce competition to recruit.
"2017 was like the perfect storm. We’ve never had so many tourists in Quebec and there was just nobody to work in the kitchen. The only way we stayed open was we had very good rapport with former employees who would come back and give us one day here and one day there," said restaurateur Kevin Quinn. "We got through it and at the end of that year we decided ‘Okay, we’re not doing this anymore. We’re going to find another solution.’ And our solution was to hire foreign workers."
Quinn turned to Mexico to find six temporary workers to help out in his kitchen this summer at the Nouvelle-France restaurant in Old Quebec.
“They're exceedingly competent, they're hard working, and they're reliable,” said Quinn. "They're such warm people and they're happy people, and they bring that attitude when they come to work. I've seen that it's affected the rest of the staff. Everyone's happier to be here."
Daniela Ivanka Hernadez, 23, who is from Playa del Carmen, is one of those foreign workers.
On top of her three years of study in Mexico, she's had culinary training in France.
“Two years ago, I went to a stage and I was there for seven months in a two-star Michelin restaurant and it was really nice,” she said. "It's really a passion and I don't know - maybe here there's not a lot of people that like that. Maybe a lot of people prefer to be in an office with air conditioning."
Popular restaurant Chez Jules was forced to close on a Friday in July during Quebec City's music festival because there were too many tourists and not enough staff to handle the rush.
“Which is very surprising,” said Marie Julie Couturier of Quebec City tourism, “because it's the busiest season of the year, and yes of course it's something that we have to address. Some restaurant owners, they basically have to close one night a week because they don't want their employees to be too tired, so that's never been seen before.”
Quinn said working in a kitchen is a tough job.
“We always work when everyone else is on holidays. We work nights, we work weekends. So some of the people in the kitchen have seen the availability of jobs in industries where they can work 9-5, five days a week with weekends off, and a lot of people have left the industry for that reason,” said Quinn.
Workers coming from abroad who are used to working six days a week, conditions in Quebec City are the 'creme de la creme.'
“It's very different than to work in Mexico. Mostly in the kitchens in Mexico, you work a lot of hours, like 10 to 12 normally,” said worker Gabriela Lopez.
"One of the questions we heard most often in the first week is, 'What am I going to do with two days off? What do I do with the second day?'" said Quinn.
Lopez is 26 and worked for a year in the U.S. at Disney World, as a staff member in the Mexican pavilion at Epcot.
Quinn made the workers an offer they couldn't refuse.
“He's amazing. He's the best boss I ever had. He's given us uniforms, he was in charge of seeing where we were staying. He paid our flight tickets,” said Hernadez.
It's seasonal work, so Hernandez and Lopez will be leaving in November, but they’re hoping to return next summer.
“I would like to, yes,” said Lopez. “If it's a possibility, it would be amazing.