News Rockies

‘Huge stress’ on Jasper tourism industry as many choose CERB over work

The Canadian Press

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic slowing business down in Jasper, there are jobs available as the summer season reaches its midpoint.

In fact, following the second stage of Alberta’s COVID relaunch on June 12 and the reopening of access to Jasper National Park on June 21, Jasper Employment and Education Centre (JEEC) saw an increase in job posting of almost 400 per cent in June compared to May. 

And at the end of July, there still were 175 positions available on the JEEC job board, primarily in the categories of light cleaners, guest services and food services.

But Ginette Marcoux, executive director of JEEC, said she has been getting calls from employers who cannot find staff. She is encouraging people to sign up for the positions – while they can.

“Employers were already forecasting a 50 per cent decrease in the number of people they would hire,” Marcoux said. 

“This year we don’t have temporary foreign workers – that put huge stress on the tourism industry for filling room attendant positions. We see a lot of immigrants in those positions.”

The convenience of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments has shifted the motivation for some to be employed, Marcoux said, and employers are frustrated. 

She took part in a webinar called Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism in North America on August 6 and said she learned, “61.7 per cent of Canadians are choosing CERB over work this summer, in the tourism industry”.

“My biggest concern is that CERB is coming to an end,” Marcoux said. “For anyone who [signed] onto CERB on March 15 and has been on it since, they will be done on August 31. 

“The period to apply closes on October 3, regardless of how many months you’ve been paid.”

Another point to consider with CERB is that because no taxes are taken off the payments, some of that money will need to be returned. 

Marcoux put it this way: “If people have received CERB payments for six months, they will owe a minimum of $3,000. 

“So then they need to be thinking about ways to offset that – with RRSPs, etc. 

“The federal government is very unforgiving with money owed to them.”

Marcoux said the employment centre has received a number of calls since CERB started, that people have applied for employment insurance and the benefits, and got money from both.

“I’ve been strongly recommending that employers are reporting to the Canada Revenue Agency any employees who are refusing to return to work,” she said.

Marcoux noted Revenue Canada has hired 3,000 auditors to oversee the emergency benefits and to do audits.

“If people are caught having fraudulated the system the penalties will be severe – far greater than the benefits of what they’re receiving,” she said.

The advantage to working now, Marcoux said, is that people can draw on employment insurance this coming winter. She cautioned that it is going to be a tough winter.

“We’re going to be in this for a couple of years,” she said. 

“While it seems busy in town, businesses are reporting a decrease in revenue. Even with the emergency benefits [for] businesses, it’s money they’ve had to borrow. 

“Any kind of emergency funds for businesses – they have to pay them back.”

Marcoux welcomed enquiries. 

“We encourage people to be in touch with us, and let us help them find employment,” she said, and suggested they sign up for the Job Trends newsletter.

By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Jasper Fitzhugh