You are currently viewing Colby Cosh: misguided outrage over Percy, Freshii’s new virtual cashier

Colby Cosh: misguided outrage over Percy, Freshii’s new virtual cashier

Advocating for foodservice to contract Baumol’s cost disease is about as useful to humanity as advocating for sneezing at a salad bar.

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I don’t know if you’ve seen the reports this week on “Percy,” the “virtual cashier” service Canadian restaurant chain Freshii has set up to howl with outrage. The enterprising Toronto Star found a few Southern Ontario Freshii locations in which local clerks have been replaced, essentially, by Zoom or some variant of it; two of the virtual cashiers taking people’s salad orders were Nicaraguans who say they earn US$3.75 (C$4.80) an hour in a country where the average monthly wage is around US$500. This amount is, of course, well below the Ontario minimum wage; it may also be needless to say that Ontario’s minimum wage has little to do with anything.

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This has led to denunciations by unions, social media virtue flaggers and even Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton, who has called the outsourcing of cashier work “outrageous”. (He also said he thinks customers should “vote with their feet,” which says exactly what any government is capable of doing about this.) The company supplying the workers and software reached out to Twitter for offer a defense its business model, which, come to think of it, is the kind of thing that, in the long run, will take good jobs away from Canadians as opinion writers in predatory right-wing capitalist newspapers.

Percy’s spokesperson points out, as I would, that many fast-food chains and other retail businesses are on the verge of getting rid of cashiers of all kinds; Nice Nicaraguans are probably working many hours to make the most of the six months before they’re replaced by a touchscreen. Outfits like Freshii also compete with “ghost kitchens” that spread restaurant overhead across multiple brands, have no servers, and outsource their deliveries to freelancers who aren’t very well protected with a salary. minimum.

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I don’t want Percy doing all my columnist duties, so I’ll point out that he’s pulling your leg when he says “It’s not about replacing people or jobs”. It’s about replacing both with automation. Freshii, which makes money by gathering produce from low-wage farm workers in places like Nicaragua and putting it in front of you in a bowl, seems to have thought Canadians who have been scanning their own groceries for decades might see the “cashier” as outsourcing with a human face.

Most of you probably weren’t bothered, just as most of you probably aren’t bothered by the federal government’s overnight tripling of the quota for temporary foreign workers in sectors suffering from a “labour shortage”, which includes, and let me make sure I understood correctly, “manufacturing, retail, hotels and food services”. This is an explicit and intentional elimination of wages in listed areas in which Canadians supposedly do not want to work, except when they do.

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Guest workers may earn the local minimum wage, but they certainly won’t earn the wages a Canadian would earn in the same job. And in exchange for being flown to Canada to serve in Marx’s Unemployed Reserve Army, they will work under the continuous and inherent threat of being sent home.

Or, who knows, a bad software-as-a-service company might pay them $3.75 an hour and point a camera at them. I’m going to make an irresponsible assumption that a large portion of the people who spoke out against Freshii voted Liberal last fall and will vote Liberal again at the next opportunity. Some of them might also be people who don’t shut up about inflation and wonder why so many cute little restaurants in their neighborhood have plywood above their doors.

Advocating for foodservice to contract Baumol’s cost disease is about as useful to humanity as advocating for sneezing at a salad bar. Alas, for a ‘conservative’ minister, this is characteristic of our times – in fact, it is characteristic of McNaughton himself, whose annoying trend-surfing demeanor reliably sets him apart as a rising political star.

national post
Twitter.com/colbycosh

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