Sixth wave of COVID-19 putting staff pressure on restaurants, retailers and manufacturing

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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press



Posted Friday, April 8, 2022 at 5:55 a.m. EDT





Last updated Friday, April 8, 2022 4:03 PM EDT

After two years of intermittent closings, Rachel Reinders felt a surge of hope last month as pandemic restrictions eased and spring dawned on the cusp of a new patio season.

But Reinders, who runs the administration of the Lieutenant’s Pump pub in Ottawa, has had to scale back once again, closing its lunch kitchen for a week in March because four cooks were on sick leave simultaneously.

“We don’t have all the necessary staff in the kitchen, so we couldn’t even really lose one. And we lost four,” she said. “Those left behind worked double time to pick up the slack.”

Businesses across Canada are struggling to cope with an apparent sixth wave of COVID-19 as staffing shortages hamper sectors from healthcare to hospitality and manufacturing, though the disruption remains longer. manageable than last winter’s Omicron variant push.

Dr. Kevin Smith, chief executive of the University Health Network in Toronto, said on Wednesday that the number of cases in his hospitals had increased in the past few days, “so much so that staffing is again difficult.”

In Montreal, parka maker Quartz Co. recently saw about 10 of its roughly 100 employees stay home with symptoms of COVID-19, although co-founder François-Xavier Robert says the absences were shorter than in january.

“That’s just as much as we had in December,” when the company closed its flagship store in Montreal and a pair of pop-up storefronts there and in Toronto. “Almost everyone who hasn’t had one over the winter has had it in the last two weeks.

“No one really got sick. People were off for a day or two and then went back to work,” Robert added. “This time it’s easier.”

Still, retailers, gyms and event spaces are taking another hit as workers fall ill or avoid those areas altogether, fearing further closures, said Ryan Mallough, senior director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“The impact is felt at all levels, in terms of absences,” he said. “Some of that nervousness is starting to come back into the mindset a bit.”

Several Canadian provinces are beefing up their defenses against the virus amid signs of a sixth wave. Quebec and Prince Edward Island have extended their provincial mask mandates until later this month and Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia plan to expand access to fourth doses of the vaccine.

The food supply chain continues to feel the pinch of the pandemic.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, processing plants faced a 10% labor shortage as the workforce ages. After peaking at 30% during the Omicron push, the shortage remains at 25%, according to Food and Beverage Canada.

“Labour issues in primary agriculture and food manufacturing are critical and urgently need to be addressed,” said Jennifer Wright, acting executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, on Friday. .

On Monday, the federal government eased rules on temporary foreign workers in certain sectors of the economy that desperately need employees, allowing employers in those industries to hire up to 30% of their workforce in the program.

But Ottawa has failed to fill a growing backlog of incoming workers, said Stewart Skinner, a hog farmer near Listowel, Ont. Processing times at the Immigration Department have gone from three to four months to more than a year, he said.

“It hasn’t been a lot of fun and the frustration is more intense because it’s not due to a lack of demand for our product. It’s a supply chain disruption that is only due to the fact that we don’t have enough labor to process pork” – a problem exacerbated by the sixth wave – Skinner said in an email.

However, labor issues at many retailers have largely stabilized.

“I don’t think they’re experiencing as big of a disruption as January. The peak seems to have been then,” Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said.

Meanwhile, some offices are moving forward as planned with return-to-work policies, although these often involve hybrid arrangements, such as at Mouvement Desjardins. Infections among its 54,000 employees are on the rise, but not to the point of harming its services, spokesman Jean Benoit Turcotti said.

National Bank also aims to increase the capacity for mainly remote work by up to 50% for its 21,000 employees at present. It will exceed this threshold, but only “following the momentum and impact of this sixth wave”, said spokesperson Jean-François Cadieux.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2022.

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