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Finding workers a challenge for Thompson businesses and Chamber of Commerce says faster immigration could help

Chamber vice-president spoke to council about hiring and retention woes at Aug. 2 committee meeting.
help wanted sign on business door by Catherine McQueen Getty Images
Best Western Thompson manager and Chamber of Commerce vice-president Ethel Timbang told city council Aug. 2 that hiring and retaining workers has been been a challenge throughout her 10 years at the hotel and remains that way today.

Thompson businesses are posting help wanted signs as they try to secure enough workers to keep their operations running and they’d like the city to provide assistance with lobbying higher levels of government.

Thompson Chamber of Commerce vice-president and Best Western Thompson manager Ethel Timbang appeared at the Aug. 2 committee of the whole meeting to outlines some of the challenges employers face and enlist help in getting the federal and provincial governments to recognize Thompson’s unique needs.

Timbang says hiring and keeping workers has been difficult ever since she started working at Best Western 10 years ago and that it isn’t getting any better.

“I’ve never had a good and stable workforce,” she said. “We are still having problems hiring people. It really worsened during the pandemic.”

Although temporary foreign workers have been an option for some businesses in the past despite the expenses associated with getting them, the unemployment rate in Northern Manitoba is too high for businesses to qualify, Timbang said. She would like to see better immigration solutions for the city because getting people from overseas who are ready and willing to work could stabilize businesses’ workforces.

Mayor Colleen Smook noted that the City of Morden has its own immigration channel and is getting more people into the country faster than is possible through standard processes or the temporary foreign worker program.

“They suggested to me that I need to tell you guys that there’s a channel we can have in the north,” she said.

City manager Anthony McInnis said Thompson had applied, unsuccessfully, to be considered a rural immigration destination.

“We have had some discussions,” he said. 

Coun. Kathy Valentino said the chamber might want to reach out to the Morden Chamber of Commerce to learn about how they were involved in their city’s program to increase local immigration.

The provincial government said in an Aug. 5 news release that the provincial unemployment rate in July was 3.5 per cent, the lowest it had been since labour force statistics started being tracked in 1976. The youth unemployment rate has also gone down to four per cent, the lowest in Canada and well below the national youth unemployment rate of 9.2 per cent.

In Thompson, however, the unemployment rate is higher. 

“They were using those numbers against us,” Smook said in reference to the city’s talks about being designated as a rural immigration destination.

Even getting people to Thompson for jobs with six-figure salaries can be a problem, said Coun. Jeff Fountain, musing that some people simply don’t want to work.

Coun. Earl Colbourne, who used to own the Northern Inn, said part of the problem may be employers offering insufficient wages, noting that he used to start housekeepers at $15 per hour.

“People can get money for doing nothing,” he said, making lower-paying jobs hard to fill.

Coun. Les Ellsworth believes it’s in the city’s interest to work with the chamber and local employers on this issue. 

“It’s not a business problem, it’s a City of Thompson problem,” he said. “We can be so much more powerful together than we are alone.”