pandemic assistance benefits payments Quebec closed restaurant

Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund returns, lack of government aid “disheartening”

“It never gets easier to read heartbreaking messages from dishwashers, cooks, servers, baristas and bartenders trying to survive another unpredictable shutdown.”

The Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, launched at the dawn of the pandemic in March 2020, got back into action the moment François Legault announced yet another closure of dining rooms in Quebec on Dec. 31, 2021. MRWRF board member Rachel Cheng explained that her team received enough applications to exhaust their funds of $52,000 within just 72 hours.

“Our team has been processing applications and sending people direct transfers of $300, and responding to messages from workers who are wondering how to pay their rent or get groceries. It never gets easier to read heartbreaking messages from dishwashers, cooks, servers, baristas, bartenders, and others who already work in a difficult industry, and are trying to survive another unpredictable wave of shutdowns.”

Rachel Cheng (aka @torontrealaise) Montreal restaurant workers relief fund
Rachel Cheng (aka @torontrealaise)

The MRWRF is a non-profit run by volunteers that relies on private donors and occasional donations from partner restaurants and organizations. To date, the fund has raised over $300K and helped over 1,200 workers in need. While Cheng welcomes all government support, she notes that the Canada Workers Lockdown Benefit is a token, and eligibility isn’t automatic.

“As everyone knows, $300 — or $270 after tax — is not enough to survive. It doesn’t make sense to offer even less financial support than CERB when those who still work in the industry have already faced multiple rounds of financial uncertainty and in the face of a rising cost of living. Another setback is that you must prove you’ve lost 50% of your income in the last year, which is hard to do if you’ve already been laid off or had hours reduced multiple times.”

Last week the Quebec government announced financial aid for restaurants that had intended to host New Year’s Eve dinners. As Cheng notes, that only offsets the food waste costs of some restaurants, while many others already closed ahead of New Year’s either for the holidays or to pre-emptively protect their staff.

“Any support is important and welcome, but we must ask why our governments continue to rely on band-aid solutions to cover damage from lack of foresight, rather than acting preventatively. Policy is powerful in changing the rules of the game and making it easier to survive, but it’s disheartening to see policies put in place that clearly lack consultation from actual workers.” ■

To donate to the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, please visit the MRWRF website.

For more on the Montreal restaurant scene, please visit the Food & Drink section.