“I feel more like a bouncer than a hostess”: frontline workers shoulder the burden of vaccination mandates

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Service industry workers in Canada say they bear the brunt of customer anger, frustration and general confusion over new vaccine mandates that they have nothing to do with creating , but that they are now responsible for the application.

At the entrance to Wienstein & Gavino’s, an Italian restaurant in downtown Montreal, hostess Abigail Trevino stands ready to greet customers and ask for their proof of vaccination.

“I usually try to defuse the situation with a joke, saying that I feel more like a bouncer than a hostess these days,” Trevino said. “Usually people laugh at it and it’s enough to break the tension.”

For the most part, she said, people understood Quebec’s vaccine passport system, which went into effect on September 1. She had occasionally had annoyed or frustrated customers, but no one was downright aggressive.

“I had someone who obviously got mad at me, but he came back and apologized afterwards and said, ‘I realize you don’t make the rules I’m sorry about ‘have lost my temper. “”

“Doubled the workload”

The challenge, more than anything, was the extra work. “It basically doubled the workload,” Trevino said.

From troubleshooting technical issues with QR codes and smartphone apps to responding to phone calls from people asking what kind of proof is accepted, Trevino said his responsibilities as a hostess have suddenly expanded.

Although in principle she agrees with the vaccination passport, she would like the government to recognize more of the additional burden it places on companies and their employees, when they already face staff shortages.

“We do a lot of extra work without the extra money, and it eats up the time it takes to sit people down. It slows everything down,” Trevino said.

“It would be nice if people could be a little nicer to the restaurant workers, because I understand that it is frustrating for people to have their ID cards out and they don’t always expect it.… [But] if people could just be patient and understanding, and realize that we don’t make the rules. “

At Hearty Hooligan, a vegan restaurant in Hamilton, management said their main concern is making sure frontline staff feel safe. (Submitted by the Hearty Hooligan)

Across the Ontario border, people have had less time to get used to vaccine certificate requirements, which came into effect on Wednesday.

The rules apply to venues, including indoor areas of restaurants and bars, gymnasiums and recreational facilities, as well as places of entertainment.

The Hearty Hooligan, a vegan restaurant in Hamilton, alerted customers to the changes last week through a post on their Instagram account.

“Providing proof of vaccination when looking to dinner is the law,” the post said. “Frontline workers have suffered a lot of abuse throughout this pandemic and we will not tolerate harassment about these policies. “

The Hearty Hooligan has warned its customers that vaccine requirements will go into effect with this Instagram post. (The Hearty Hooligan / Instagram)

But in response to that, chef Matthew Miles said they had faced a wave of angry comments from people accusing them of everything from discrimination to supporting tyranny.

When the mask mandate first came into effect, Miles said customers entered the restaurant without masks, discussing their rights. They are preparing for more of this type of attitude.

To help protect staff, the restaurant installed a bell near the front until it rang directly in the kitchen, so employees could call for additional help in the event of a conflict.

“Our issue right now is primarily the safety of our frontline staff. We want them to feel supported and we want them to feel safe in their workspace,” said Miles.

Checks and fines

In response to these concerns, a spokesperson for the Ontario health minister said by-law officers are responsible for enforcing the new requirements and inspectors will visit facilities to offer assistance and staff support.

Ontario workers are being asked to call 911 if they feel threatened with refusing entry to someone who refuses to comply.

In Quebec, people who try to enter places requiring a vaccination passport without having one risk fines ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 6,000. Businesses that do not enforce vaccine passport rules can also face fines ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 6,000.

Alberta’s new proof of vaccination program is not mandatory, but some of the companies that have chosen to adopt it say they are ready to call the police if people refuse to cooperate.

Quebec’s passport-vaccine system came into effect on September 1, followed by a two-week education period. People are required to show digital or printed proof of vaccination for many non-essential activities and businesses. Other provinces are just starting to roll out their systems. (Ivanoh Demers / Radio-Canada)

Outside of the restaurant and bar industry, workers in various industries are now adding the enforcement of public health restrictions to their to-do list.

Nadia Ali, a 19-year-old Carleton University student who works part-time as a lifeguard, recently learned that she would have to screen swimmers to get proof of vaccination.

The pool where she works is in a condominium in Ottawa, and Ali said some residents were angry at the changes.

“A lady came in and she told me it was unfair and discriminatory, and that she would not be coming back here anymore,” Ali said. “I just said to him, ‘I’m sorry but I’m just enforcing the rules, I didn’t impose them.'”

Her management has been supportive, she said, and if a resident was aggressive, she would ask for help at the front desk. So far it has not come to that.

More than anything, Ali said, it’s a lot of hassle and extra work. She hopes the process will improve over time.

Additional anxiety

It all comes down to the fact that employees find themselves in an unfair position they never signed up for, according to Muneeza Sheikh, a Toronto-based labor lawyer.

“What we do, basically, is we put the employees in a combative scenario when it’s not part of their job,” she said.

Sheikh said some of his clients have hired new staff – if they can afford it – to enforce vaccination mandates. But for facilities that don’t or can’t afford security, she said vaccine requirements put them in a difficult position.

“There are Canadian employees who are very anxious about working now on this vaccination passport and how it is going to be implemented,” she said.


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