Dec. 19, 2006 - Issue #583: Grinched
Labour shortage hits ho ho home for local mallsAll year retailers from across the province have been bemoaning the dearth of cheap labour in Alberta, and throughout the holiday season merchants have complained of being short staffed, with many stores being forced to restrict their hours or offer reduced services due to a lack of workers.
So maybe it’s not surprising that, in an economy where even fast-food restaurants are offering wages that are nearly double the recently raised minimum wage, many local malls are finding it harder and harder to fill their most important job opening at this time of year. Santas are harder to come by than ever this holiday season, with many local shopping centres scrambling to find someone to fill the big black boots as parents relate anecdotes of encountering lethargic, poorly costumed, unenthusiastic and even drunken jolly old elves when they take their children to sit on Santa’s knee.
None of this, however, should come as much of a shock, at least according to the man known as “Canada’s best Santa.”
“Even regular service jobs are getting $12,” complained Victor Nevada, the headmaster of Calgary’s Santa School, “so why the hell would you go work [as Santa] for that amount of money?”
According to Nevada, mall Santas, who are paid “anywhere from minimum wage to about $12 on average,” have to be “actors, child psychologists, costumers and make-up experts” and are usually responsible for the purchase and upkeep of their suit. In his mind, the various incarnations of Saint Nick seen perched in cheesy winter scenes in malls across the nation are grossly underpaid.
“A mall Santa that would be considered well paid in Canada would probably make about $25,” Nevada explained, “but really they should be making at least $50 an hour.”
Nevada has no sympathy for mall managers spending the pre-Christmas months searching desperately for a suitable Kris Kringle (“All the good Santas have basically been booked by the end of February,” he noted), but in his mind the solution to this Santa crisis is simple: pay more.
“It’s a hard, hard business, and with malls only paying $15 to $25 an hour, I can see why they’re having trouble getting Santas,” he insisted. “I mean, would you do that for $15 an hour?
“The people who say ‘would you like fries with that’ get $15 an hour,” he laughed, “so maybe Santa should start saying that, too.” V
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