It’s been a busy summer for Pavi Khunkhun. That’s probably true for most hotel owners after the industry’s busiest season, but for this local, owner of the Howard Johnson, it’s been especially tiresome.
Because of staffing shortages, Khunkhun says that he, his wife Neelam Bains, and his parents (who established the hotel in the early 1980s) have had to clean most of their hotel’s rooms themselves. The difficult work has been particularly tough on Khunkhun’s parents, but it hasn’t been fun for anyone.
“The kids are following us around the rooms,” Khunkhun said, pointing to his two young children. “(Our eldest) usually helps carry towels and what not.”
“It’s terrible, it takes a personal toll,” said a visibly frustrated Bains. “I told (Pavi) that I’m not going to sit around and do that forever.”
When they weren’t able to clean enough rooms, as was frequently the case, they’ve turned customers away at the door.
Khunkhun ran a job ad for about a year, but received few responses from locals. He did have one local woman who worked for him for a short time, and currently has two local employees working as housekeepers, but he still finds himself short staffed.
As a result, Khunkhun has tried repeatedly to hire from outside Canada through the much discussed Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but has been denied on multiple occasions over the past year.
The application process is tedious.
In order to participate in the program, employers have to run an ad for a job opening for several weeks via multiple outlets before they can submit a formal Labour Market Impact Assessment application. The current application cost is $1,000, a fee that is non-refundable even in the case of a rejection (Khunkhun’s applications, however, were denied when the fee was much lower).
Even the smallest of discrepancies on an application can result in a denial.
According to Khunkhun one of his denials was due to a small fluctuation in the median wages that he was supposed to offer, while another application from earlier this year was rejected because Golden’s unemployment rate was too high, making the region ineligible for the program at the time.
Because the hotel has fewer than 10 employees, Khunkhun hasn’t been subjected to the strict caps on foreign workers that were introduced in the recently amended program.
Under those new regulations, an employer can’t exceed a 10 per cent threshold of employees defined as “low-wage TFWs”.
Since those amendments, Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks has heard complaints about the changes from numerous employers in the tourism industry across the region.
“I believe what needs to be looked at from my perspective is there is a significant difference between rural employers and urban employers,” Wilks said. “Those in the rural areas have a much more challenging time finding employees, especially in smaller communities in our riding such as Golden or Invermere where the base population of the town is small. Trying to find people within that base population can become quite difficult.”
Another issue Wilks sees with the program is that both the approval process of the prospective employees and employers work on separate tracks through immigration and human resources respectively.
“The employer could make the application and the employee could make it all the way through the interview process in the country of origin,” Wilks explained.
“Even though they’ve flown through the whole process, it could be at the end that they deem that they are not convinced that that person will return to their country of origin, and the application is refused…that becomes very challenging and frustrating for the employer.”
Wilks suggests implementing a pool of approved temporary foreign workers that an employer could choose from after a successful application.
“(In that case) they may not get an employee from the country that they wished to get them from, but they will get a temporary foreign worker,” Wilks said of his suggestion.
Khunkhun made his complaints public on a local Facebook group last month. The post generated a remarkable amount of discussion, with many saying that if Khunkhun offered more money and benefits, then he wouldn’t be in this situation. He says he has advertised the housekeeping position at anywhere from $12-$14 an hour.
“Most people (on the Facebook post) were saying they wanted to be paid $20 an hour or higher. I wish I could give that to a local and keep them employed…(but) operating costs are sky high right now,” Khunkhun said.
The entire ordeal around the post was upsetting for both he and his family, and Khunkhun eventually deleted the post entirely.
Khunkhun says he is still planning to apply for a Temporary Foreign Worker again.
“First and foremost I will try and hire locals, but given the backlash we faced on Facebook…I don’t know,” he said.