CHAUDHRI: Freshii’s ‘virtual cashier’ is bad omen for labour shortage

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In April, Canadian-based fast-food chain Freshii came under intense scrutiny after the company pivoted to serving customers via ‘virtual cashiers’ based in other countries.

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Instead of having a Canadian employee take customer orders, Freshii hired employees from Nicaragua, Bolivia and Pakistan to serve customers by screen, at starkly lower hourly wages to the tune of $3.75 US an hour. Of course, Ontario’s minimum wage is $15 an hour.

Freshii’s co-founder and former CEO Matthew Corrin founded the “virtual cashier” business, called Percy, that provides these services to Freshii. Corrin recently announced he and his team intend to take Percy global. Corrin stepped down as Freshii CEO in May 2022.

In an interview with the Toronto Starto Percy representative, Angela Argo, said Percy was providing a solution to Canada’s chronic labor shortage, claiming “the pandemic created this mass exodus of workers in the restaurant industry.”

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According to a Toronto Star report, the food and hospitality sector lost roughly 171,300 workers since the pandemic began.

While Percy’s business model may be born out of necessity, it places Canada’s labor market down a perilous path.

Freshii is not a small shop. If it is feeling the pressure of labor costs, other businesses that are not as large or well resourced may be suffocating. Following Freshii’s lead, they too may look to automate roles and seek cheaper, foreign labour.

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A greater danger is stimulus money leaving the country. Many large and small businesses took government stimulus funds during the pandemic. In Canada, these programs provided employers with employee wage relief, commercial rent support and other financial relief. The goal, of course, was to rehire or employ Canadian employees. Clearly, some of this government relief will or has already been used to divert job opportunities offshore, instead of building job opportunities right here at home.

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Lastly, moving work offshore doesn’t remedy the labor shortage. It shrinks our labor sectors. It also creates friction within organizations and can drag morale down for home based employees. When a company’s culture turns on its own employees, demanding the cheapest talent globally, it’s hard to imagine its potential to grow a loyal employee base.

On to this week’s questions:

Q. I just started a job and my employer says I have to take one of my three weeks of vacation during December when the company shuts down for the holidays. I have several weddings this year and really want to take my vacation during those weddings. Is my employer allowed to dictate when my vacation is?

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A. Yes. The Employment Standards Act gives employers the right to dictate when employee vacation is taken. So, your employer can deny vacation requests as well. If you are employed for less than five years you are entitled to at least two weeks of vacation per year. Over five years of service mandates at least three weeks of vacation a year. Many employers do not keep to the minimums, however, and create vacation policies that are less restrictive.

Q. I have worked for my employer for 13 years and had pretty good benefits. I just got terminated. I already had an appointment to take my kids to the dentist two days after I was let go. Turns out my benefits were canceled when we showed up to the dentist and now I have a huge bill. Isn’t my employer responsible for the dental bill?

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A. When an employer terminates an employee, it is required to continue all benefits for that employee for at least the statutory notice period (up to eight weeks). You could potentially be entitled to the continuation of benefits well beyond that time. It appears, based on your question that your employer may have failed to provide you this minimum entitlement on your termination. Not only may you be entitled to your benefits being reinstated (as well as payment for your most recent dental bill) but you may be entitled to other forms of compensation like salary, bonus and other benefits as a result of your termination. Get some legal advice.

Have a workplace question? Maybe I can help! Email me at and your question may be featured in a future column.

This article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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