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The Pizza Chef: Is Minimum Wage Synonymous With Minimum Effort?

Is Minimum Wage Synonymous With Minimum Effort?


March 4, 2008
By Diana Coutu

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By now we must all be feeling the pinch on our bank accounts because of the in-crease of minimum wages across the country.

By now we must all be feeling the pinch on our bank accounts because of the in-crease of minimum wages across the country.

Here in Manitoba, we’re at $8 an hour. For the record, we’ve always paid our staff more than minimum wage. That is if they make it past the probation period.

In fact, most of our staff was already earning $8 an hour. But when minimum wage increased, suddenly overnight, star staff was earning the same as green staff. 

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I wouldn’t be so outraged if it weren’t for the fact that our company has already invested an enormous amount of training for the stars to become stars. And these individuals invested in themselves and applied the knowledge from their training. And so, they were rewarded with a higher wage.

Now, we’re faced with a dilemma: how is it that a new staff member, who starts orientation today, gets paid the same as another employee who’s acquired the skills and earned the recognition of being the trainer?

Where’s the fairness in that? I know what you’re thinking – life’s not fair. We veterans of the food industry know that all too well.

But what of these young, impressionable individuals who make up the bulk of our workforce? They’ve grown up in a world where they get a ribbon just for participating, or they get a certificate just for showing up.  Getting the prize is not synonymous with winning – but they expect it because the school system has changed so that they get the prize as long as they just show up. They get the full reward for the minimum effort.

Somewhere down the line, the focus changed from the pride of working for something and attaining it, to preventing feelings of loss among all who participated. Perhaps no one knew what harm this would cause, but in actuality, it took away the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

It took away the purpose of aiming high, since the bar is now so low.

So what’s become of the winners? Where are the kids that always want to do their best?

I’ve noticed for some time now, that on average, the basic skill set of each new hire has declined. It used to be that you hired a 16-year-old and they knew how to wash dishes, sweep a floor, wash a floor, etc. They knew the bare bone basics, because their allowance was dependent on chores around the house.  They instinctively knew to be polite to each other, to their managers and to customers. They knew that having a job meant that one must work, not just show up and expect to be paid.

These were things that you needn’t mention because it was universally understood.

Nowadays we no longer assume that a new hire has any of these basic skills.

Three months ago, we had to show a new hire how to fill up a sink with hot soapy water so she could wash dishes. She’s 17 years old and she’s never washed a sink full of dishes before that day. How is that possible? Don’t parents know that they’re supposed to make their kids help around the house? What of personal responsibility, of personal competence and independence? What chance in hell does she have to live on her own? Ever? 

It has also become apparent that schools have adopted this “pansy-baby” mentality for grading.  Last night I saw a report on a national newscast about how schools were no longer failing students because they were afraid of hurting their self-esteem. They’re worried about how students will feel if they don’t move forward with their peers. It’s been going on for a few years, and in keeping with true government fashion, they’ve decided to put a committee together to discuss the ramifications.

It’s no wonder that the majority of our new hires have difficulty with basic math.

Sometime later this fall, when these committee people meet, they should come to the conclusion that this is very bad. For everyone – industry, government, and society – it’s very bad. In fact, I don’t see any positives about it.

What about the kid that I hired and even after three weeks of training can’t meet our expectations?  Is this the first time he’ll ever be told “It’s not good enough” and “you’ll have to do better?”

What’s worse, he doesn’t understand why I now have to fire him.

Technically, he did show up. Technically he did wash the dishes, although someone else had to redo it, each and every time. But in his mind, he must wonder why he can’t just have the ribbon? Will this be the first blow to his self-esteem? Will it be crushing?

Am I to keep this employee because I am too afraid to hurt his feelings?

Not lik ely. I don’t treat teenagers like preschoolers. 

My generation went to a different school, and if these kids want to be employed by my company, they’re going to have to complete my training course to my satisfaction. It’s my experience that doing a job well always builds self-esteem, regardless of previous failures.

We’ve always felt that employees are an investment, and that our company doesn’t just make great pizza, we also make great people.

But if the education system is failing, and parents at home are failing, why do we get to foot the ever-rising bill to fix all their mistakes? Are we the Mike Holmes of future generations? When will the government send us a cheque for filling in the getting-larger-by-the-day gaps between what today’s kids actually know and what they should know?  Where do we apply for an education grant for running a course called “Reality?”

I’ll say one other thing about this; I hope you all have raised your prices. There’s no reason for us to have more work with less pay.•


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