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Service Workers Continue To Struggle With Poor Pay, Staff Shortages And Aggressive Customers

Service workers in Quebec say their low wages are not worth the stress and abuse they are forced to endure from customers.

Service Workers Continue To Struggle With Poor Pay, Staff Shortages And Aggressive Customers
Brent Gorwin/Unsplash.

Service workers in Quebec say their low wages are not worth the stress and abuse they are forced to endure from customers.

  • Chloe Peel, who worked as a barista in Montreal for two years during the pandemic, experienced so much stress at work that she had to be admitted to an emergency room at a psychiatric hospital last November, CBC News reported Tuesday.

Peel told CBC: "[People] are leaving [service jobs] because they're suffering. They're not leaving because they don't want to work. They want to work. They just can't handle it anymore."

  • Many service workers make minimum wage. In Quebec, the minimum wage is currently $13.50 per hour, and is due to increase to $14.25 in May. For workers who receive tips, the minimum wage is currently $10.80.

Data from Statistics Canada shows a majority of workers in the accommodation and food services sector in 2020 were women. Full-time workers in the sector made a nationwide average hourly wage of $19.15 in 2021, the lowest of any employment sector.

  • In Quebec, the average hourly rate for workers in the sector falls slightly to $17.12.

In addition to being paid low wages, food service workers also have among the lowest rates of union membership. According to Statistics Canada, just 4.9 per cent of food service workers were covered by a union-negotiated collective agreement in 2021.

  • Peel told CBC her workplace was short-staffed, and that she had to deal with customers who were frustrated with public health restrictions that are set by the provincial government, not restaurant workers or owners.

Back in October, The Canadian Press reported that restaurant restaurant workers across the country tasked with enforcing provincial vaccine passport rules and other public health requirements were being subjected to racism, sexual harassment and abuse from some customers.

  • One worker told CP: “I’ve had grown men yell and raise a fist at me just because of contact tracing. I knew asking them to show me proof of their COVID-19 shots would be worse.”

Peel told CBC that staff shortages made her job even more difficult. That concern was shared by Lorenzo Laurieri, a grocery bagger, who explained: "[Customers are] like: 'There's no service here anymore. I guess nobody wants to work anymore.' And it's kind of frustrating because we are working. It's just not enough."

  • Like other service workers, many grocery store employees make minimum wage. According to Statistics Canada, full-time employees in “sales support occupations” – which include cashiers, shelf stockers and store clerks – made an average hourly wage of just $17.91 in December 2021, the lowest of any occupation in that data set.

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