Canadian restaurant staff face anger, abuse and racism while enforcing coronavirus vaccination policies

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

Posted Sunday, October 17, 2021 11:42 a.m. EDT

Last updated Sunday, October 17, 2021 at 11:42 a.m. EDT

HALIFAX — When a vaccine proof policy was announced, Juliana Murphy knew it would be another burden she would face at work.

“I’ve seen grown men screaming and raising their fists just from contact tracing,” says the waitress at a breakfast restaurant in Halifax. “I knew asking them to show me proof of their COVID-19 vaccines would be worse.”

Vaccination passports are becoming the latest challenge for restaurant workers in Canada, as many face verbal abuse, sexual harassment and racism from customers.

Restaurant staff across the country say that while most customers are complying with the new vaccine requirements, others are argumentative and angry.

They describe a work environment where they are regularly questioned about COVID-19 vaccine certification policies, with a small number of customers becoming belligerent and intimidating.

They describe the extra work of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions as exhausting and stressful.

In response, some restaurateurs have hired security guards to review vaccination and identification records before allowing customers to sit at a table.

But in most cases, the blame lies with hospitality staff – a largely young, part-time, low-wage workforce that is already under pressure due to a labor shortage. industry-wide.

“A lot of the hosts who work in downtown restaurants are young women and it’s a bit scary for them to rush out the front door,” says Sean Bridge, server, bartender and part-time host in Toronto. (The restaurants where Bridge and Murphy work are not named to prevent them from being targeted by anti-vaccination efforts.)

“You can get a really…arrogant crowd here,” Bridge says. “I hate that the responsibility for enforcing these rules lies with restaurant staff.”

For an industry hit by pandemic public health measures, the vaccine passport rules have been another blow to bars and restaurants.

As they strive to stay open and do their best to enforce vaccination mandates, the restrictions have further increased staff workloads and hurt sales, according to an industry group.

Restaurants Canada found in a recent survey that more than half of restaurant owners say their employees have faced hostile confrontations from people opposed to the new rules.

The survey also revealed that 20% of restaurants have lost staff and more than 60% say they need to hire more workers.

“These are restrictions on top of restrictions,” says Todd Barclay, President and CEO of Restaurants Canada. “It’s very laborious and time-consuming to implement…restaurants are losing money.”

The industry group says restaurants should be compensated for the cost of enforcing vaccination mandates, which would help them hire more workers. He also calls for capacity and distance restrictions to be lifted now that vaccine requirements are enforced.

Still, frontline restaurant workers suggest some customers may be tampering with vaccination records.

“I had a table that I overheard later that evening saying they had their documents falsified,” says Bridge. “I had looked at their fakes, and there’s no way to tell they were fakes.”

On the other hand, he says he almost didn’t allow someone who had the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to enter the restaurant because he didn’t realize he wasn’t. only needed one dose to be completely vaccinated.

“We try to enforce those rules, but we haven’t had any training,” Bridge said. “It’s a really uncomfortable situation.”

In Halifax, Murphy says his restaurant has not provided any training but has left a brochure at reception on the vaccine proof policy for staff to use as a guideline.

“The hardest part is that the vaccination records are different for each province,” she says. “It takes time to verify and some customers get upset. They really believe that it is the restaurant that imposes this.

The waitress says that while young people, old people and women generally tend to be understanding, she has had multiple hostile interactions with middle-aged men.

“Some of them seem to take this as an opportunity to be racist,” she says. “I have noticed several times that some customers are giving our Syrian and Indian employees a hard time. They get really angry when they ask for their proof of vaccines.

Murphy says she does her best to help defuse these situations, but the amount of money she earns has gone down.

“By the time they walk through the front door of my table, they’re already in this awful mood and complaining about things that have nothing to do with our service or our food quality. They’ve already made the decision to tip less.

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