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The pizza chef: June 2009

Joining the CRFA board of directors


May 22, 2009
By Diana Coutu

Topics

I was recently nominated to the board of directors for the Canadian
Restaurant and Food Association (CRFA). I had to ask what accepting the
nomination would require of me.

I was recently nominated to the board of directors for the Canadian Restaurant and Food Association (CRFA). I had to ask what accepting the nomination would require of me. As it turns out, it’s not all that different than last year, when I was invited to represent independent pizzerias across Canada at the Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) offices about the price of industrial milk. I and several others succeeded in making an impassioned presentation to the CDC and in February we saw the lowest increase to dairy (one per cent) in more than 15 years. This is the kind of project that a board of directors devotes their time to. 

A board director serves for four years, and there are three meetings each year to attend. Important provincial and federal issues such as labour legislation, employment standards, health and safety regulations, workers compensation, minimum wage, PST, GST, environmental regulations, gaming and smoking, the food supply management system, payroll taxes, food labelling and disclosure, and a variety of other issues are discussed.

These talks lead to collaborated presentations that are presented to elected and appointed government officials who make decisions on the policies, laws and raw costs that affect all of our businesses. It’s hardly a glamorous job, but a necessity of our society. It’s important to communicate with our elected and appointed government officials, otherwise how will they know what we think? 

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I had the opportunity to join a small presentation made to my local NDP caucus in March. We discussed several topics, including the two increases to minimum wage for Manitoba this year, the new Louis Riel holiday and the five per cent holiday bonus pay that’s added about $1,000 to the average restaurant’s payroll. We also discussed the good work that the NDP government has done since being elected and the realities of the current economy and its impact on restaurants.

We proposed a training wage and tipped employee consideration wages. I spoke about my personal experience with staff morale when a newly hired staff member is paid the same as the trainer. Another delegate expressed outrage about an employee theft incident, where the later convicted employee used their alarm and safe code along with their store key to steal $3,000, but because of current employment laws was entitled to his last paycheque and two-week severance. The only recourse he has to his $3,000 is to take the former employee to small claims court, further taking time away from his business. 

To top it off, even if he invests more time and money to pursue the individual and he does get a ruling in his favour, there’s no body or agency in place to collect the stolen $3,000 from the former employee. So what’s the point then?  He pointed out how the laws didn’t used to be so one-sided. It used to be that employees had some responsibility to the company that employs them.

One honourable NDP member later dismissed his story as an isolated incident. Each and every pizzeria owner and restaurateur on the planet can identify with employee theft. It’s unfortunate that it occurs, but the fact is that not everyone we hire is honest and hard working or makes a loyal employee. While restaurant and pizzeria owners know this first hand, what’s most unfortunate is that this elected official doesn’t believe it to be a common experience and is voting on policies and laws that greatly affect our ability to operate. I had to wonder, how many other elected officials truly have no idea about the realities of our industry? 

 We asked that they increase the personal exemption tax rate like Saskatchewan did as a means to help both the economy and the low wage earners. The increases to minimum wages and input costs will require most of us to raise our prices, which may negatively impact customer counts. 

There was a lot of discussion in that overheated room at the Manitoba legislature that day and the hour went by very quickly. It’s tough to say whether our presentation had a positive effect on the elected officials, but I was glad to be present and to have a chance to speak on behalf of independent pizzeria owners across the country. At the very least, it sparked some debate among them. Although these same elected officials patronize our pizzerias, our daily worlds couldn’t be further apart. I feel that it’s part of my job, as a newly elected CRFA board member, to peel back the curtain and let them have a look at the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s the best way for any reasonable person to make informed decisions on all our behalf. 

So how can you get involved and have your say?  E-mail or write your elected officials, send them your “employee from hell” stories and ask them to restore balance between employer and employee. Ask them to consider implementing a training wage, or a tipped employee wage, if there isn’t one already available in your province. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?


Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year champion, an internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg and a director of the board for the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other independent pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis: for more information contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca .


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