Labour shortage costing some Whistler businesses over $10,000 a month

Whistler Chamber of Commerce says survey shows businesses have increased wages by between 6 and 25% in effort to attract workers

Val Litwin, CEO, Whistler Chamber of Commerce: 78% of businesses surveyed have been increased wages | Whistler Chamber of Commerce

The Whistler Chamber has long known the local labour situation is a complicated one, but through a recent survey of its members it now has the hard numbers to back it up.

"More than anything I think it just confirms that this labour issue is a very multi-faceted issue," said Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin.

The survey came about as a result of the Aug. 18 meeting hosted by the chamber to talk about Whistler's staffing struggles, and was conducted from late August to mid-September.

Litwin said its goal was threefold: to obtain clearer data about the state of the labour issue, clarify the degree to which certain factors might be exacerbating the problem and to get a better idea of where to focus future advocacy efforts.

"One of the data points that really jumped out at me was that 78 per cent of the businesses surveyed instituted a wage increase in the last six months to attract or retain a team member," Litwin said.

"And 72 per cent of those surveyed rolled out an increase between six and 25 per cent."

Those numbers show that many businesses are pulling out all the stops to staff their stores, Litwin said.

"This idea that business has to pull up their socks — business has been pulling their socks all the way up," he said.

"It's terrific to see the business community stepping up in this way, and it's a great message to take back to our elected officials, because this has been one of the No. 1 things we've been hearing from the federal ministers.

"Now we have very clear data that business has done that, and it hasn't been a total fix."

The survey also shows that while foreign workers are a necessary complement to Whistler's Canadian workforce — 81 per cent of survey respondents reported that they employ Working Holiday Visa holders while 26 per cent reported employing Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) — they are but one piece of the puzzle, Litwin said.

Of the survey's 79 respondents, 74 per cent were small businesses (under 50 employees) and the top three participating categories were in food and beverage, accommodation and retail. Other categories include activity and recreation, construction and trades, and health and medicine.

Thirteen out of 79 said their entire staff was Canadian or permanent resident. Twenty-one reported employing TFWs, 17 of which said TFWs make up 10 to 20 per cent of their workforce.

The survey also shows some of the negative economic consequences of the labour shortage. When asked how much revenue is being "left on the table" each month due to being understaffed, 15 businesses reported losing between $5,000 and $10,000, while 18 reported losing over $10,000 each month.

The survey also asked respondents to rank, in order of urgency, where the business community should be focusing its efforts in terms of attracting and retaining staff.

Enhancing the availability and affordability of housing was ranked No. 1, building community-wide retention strategies was No. 2 and developing a long-term recruitment strategy was No. 3.

Better transportation, nationwide marketing and annual mobile job fairs filled out the top six.

Litwin said the chamber is already looking at ways to add value to the Whistler experience.

"One thing the chamber will be doing is vis-à-vis our Whistler Experience program and the Spirit Pass we'll look to add more value to that pass, so that we can lower the cost of living for our employees while they're up here," he said.

"We'll be coming to the business community to find out what can we do as a business community to offer incentives and discounts to folks so that they can, for example, buy groceries at a discounted rate."

The full report can be found on the chamber's website at

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