Restaurant industry calls for changes to federal wage subsidy to keep workers employed
NEW WESTMINSTER -- Despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have allowed diners back at B.C. restaurants, many people remain out of work in the food service industry, according to national job numbers.
Now there are calls for changes to federal support programs to help businesses keep people employed while they continue to navigate challenges posed by the pandemic.
National industry advocate Restaurants Canada wants to see the 75 per cent federal wage subsidy remain available as long as restrictions are in place for businesses, gradually reducing as revenues increase. In May, the subsidy was extended until the end of August.
The organization is also calling on Ottawa to change the requirement for a 30 per cent revenue decline, and instead assess needs on a scale, so that increasing sales while still operating at a loss won't mean a business is cut off.
Steve Huynh and his wife Camy Wong own the restaurant chain Steve's Poke Bar, and would also like to see the changes recommended by Restaurants Canada.
Their family business shut down for four weeks early into the pandemic and has since reopened its eight locations. They rehired staff with the help of the subsidy.
"Our sales are still down but because of the wage subsidy, we're still able to give the hours to our staff that so they can support themselves," Huynh said. "If the wage subsidy went away and our sales are still down, then we have to start looking at questions — Do we cut hours? Do we cut staff?"
At their newest location in New Westminster's Sapperton neighbourhood, which opened in January, they are currently offering online take-out orders and deliveries in place of dining in.
Wong said it's very difficult to operate at a reduced capacity for a prolonged period of time.
"We are definitely hoping to see something where the government can continue supporting all the different small businesses in a way that is proportionate to the situation that they're going through," Wong said. "The one-size-fits-all is not going to be helpful in the long run."
She said they'd also like to see help for new and newly opened businesses, which don't qualify for current support programs.
No one from Restaurants Canada was available for an interview with CTV News on Sunday, but the organization recently released a survey showing 44 per cent of operators who responded did not apply for the subsidy for at least one of their establishments because they did not meet requirements.
The federal government has previously said the threshold of a 30 per cent revenue drop is being reconsidered. In the meantime, Huynh and Wong are left to wonder what could happen to the people who rely on their family business for their livelihoods.
"All the people that have jobs and have bills and take care of their families that work with us," Huynh said. "How do we take care of them through this COVID-19 with the current rules that we have right now?"