Tags: Building Strong Communities , Investing in Alberta’s Future , Supporting Families

Posted on Jul 12, 2016

Dignity for all occupations

Restaurant worker at cash register

Written by Graham Sucha, MLA for Calgary-Shaw.

Before I was elected I worked in the restaurant business for half my life and was a manager for nearly a decade. There is a real problem with turnover in the retail and restaurant sector. I know that firsthand, as I can’t even count the number of new hires and rehires that I had to do as a manager. 

Rate of pay is only one out of many reasons why people change jobs in the restaurant sector or leave the sector entirely. I took pride in my ability to lower turnover rates. The managers I worked with and I did this by addressing the reasons for turnover: working conditions, respect, recognition, training and inclusion in decision making. All of those reasons can be boiled down to one fundamental problem – as a society we don’t place a lot of value on the service industry. I’m not a sociologist so I can’t pretend to know why, but it’s true. Sit two people down at the bar, and if one of them says they work in the oil and gas sector and the other says he works in the restaurant sector, the first one is going to get more respect.  

People who serve in restaurants and bars work long hard hours for their pay, and they deserve a fair wage for it.

I do know, however, what kind of tremendous difference it makes in an employee when they are shown respect and recognition for the job that they do. I can remember countless times when one of my servers would come off the floor looking and feeling dejected after being treated with no respect by the people at their table. I made it a habit to watch for those signs. All it took from me was a quick walk-by to check in on them, and a quick word of appreciation to let them know that they were doing a good job, and their backs would straighten, the smile would come back out and the productivity would go up. It was worth it because I owed my success to them. 

Beyond the obvious benefits to everyone – the workers, their families, the local businesses where they spend their money, the social services which they will no longer need – of raising the minimum wage, I can see one huge benefit for the service industry itself. Service workers will become a little bit more valued by themselves, by their employers and by the people who rely every day on their work. And it is hard work. Have no doubt about it. People who serve in restaurants and bars work long hard hours for their pay, and they deserve a fair wage for it. I am happy to support the drive to give them what they deserve, because I owe it to them. 

I have strong ties to the restaurant business. I have seen many of them come and go. It happened before the minimum wage increase and it will happen after. It is not because of the rates of pay (in fact the ones who shut down usually offered the worst rates) it was the failure to adapt to changing trends and changing markets. The restaurant industry has seen increases from all factors, has continued to thrive and will continue with an increase in minimum wage.