Hospitality jobs go unfilled around the country as COVID-19 backpacker exodus starts to bite

If you’re heading out to a restaurant this weekend or even spending a few hours at the pub, you may notice something missing from the pre-pandemic era — foreign workers.

As the hospitality industry tries to rebound from COVID-19 — no more so than in Victoria, where restaurants were closed for months — venues around the country are facing a staff shortage crisis.

Wes Lambert, the chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, said there was only one skilled applicant for every 10 jobs advertised because of the loss of working holiday and visa workers.

Those workers were the backbone of many restaurants around the country but returned home after finding themselves ineligible for the Federal Government’s Jobkeeper or Jobseeker payments.

Industry representatives say the mass exodus, coupled with local staff moving into other lines of work, has left venues with a major headache.

“In the hospitality industry we have known for a decade that the enrolments into VET and TAFE for commercial cookery and front-of-house hospitality management have been in decline, and this has actually helped bring that problem to the surface,” Mr Lambert said.

‘We need customer-facing roles’

Nick Allardice’s pub, The Firehouse Hotel, is operating at reduced hours because of its staff shortage.(ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva)

For Melbourne pub owner Nick Allardice, the staff shortage means reduced trading hours at his venues in Port Melbourne and Ringwood, in the outer eastern suburbs.

Mr Allardice’s business, the Bon Vivant Group, made casual staff redundant in March at the start of the pandemic, and he said a quarter of his permanent workers who were receiving JobKeeper payments quit the industry altogether.

He said he normally received up to 60 applicants for advertised positions, but his hiring drive after local lockdown restrictions were eased has not been so successful.

Mr Allardice said it was difficult to attract management staff, due to their fears of being made ineligible for JobKeeper if they left their current employer.

When it came to lower-tier jobs, such as waitstaff and bartenders, he said they had received “no applicants”.

It is a similar story for Paul Stafford, who runs food truck business Bigger than Texas in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula.

“I’ve never been in this situation in Melbourne, and I’ve been trading in hospitality for a long time. It’s very challenging at the moment,” he said.

Hospitality ‘stigma’ may be deterring workers

Waiter carrying tray of drinks.
Food writer Dani Valent says hospitality workers “should not settle for anything but good conditions”.(Pixabay)

In September, the national unemployment rate sat at 6.9 per cent, and more than 11 per cent of Australians were categorised as under-employed.

Theoretically, there should be people to fill the advertised jobs. But Mr Allardice believes there is a “negative stigma” associated with around the hospitality industry, over fears of low pay and gruelling hours.

There have been widespread reports over the years of wage theft and underpayment in the industry, but Mr Allardice insisted most employers did the right thing by their staff.

He said inexperienced staff with no qualifications could expect to earn a minimum of about $25-an-hour, with extra penalty rates for irregular hours and weekend work.

“People from overseas don’t have the stigma around hospitality. Generally, the feedback we get is the pay rates in Australia for hospitality are fantastic,” he said.

Food writer Dani Valent said the staff shortage was “entirely predictable”, due to visa holders “being told to go home if they couldn’t support themselves in Australia”.

“March is going to be a crunch time when JobSeeker reduces and JobKeeper dries up. We’ll certainly see some businesses fail and we may see more people coming into the marketplace.”

Closure of one kitchen is cause for celebration

Ben and Dani pose for a picture in the Attica kitchen, surrounded by found and utensils
Attica owner Ben Shewry and Dani Valent have closed up their soup kitchen as the restaurant gets back to business.(ABC News Breakfast: Madeleine Morris)

Celebrated Melbourne restaurant Attica set up a weekly soup kitchen for hospitality workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

With dine-in customers returning this weekend, staff at the three-hatted restaurant are now back at work, spelling the end of the soup kitchen.

The kitchen was a lifeline for skilled visa workers like Michael Ng, a qualified chef who was stood down in March and received no government support.

“I pay taxes just like everyone else and I’m lawful and live well. I have no idea why the Government left me behind,” Mr Ng said.

Ms Valent, who has been running the soup kitchen with owner Ben Shewry, said hanging up the ladle was bittersweet.

“The success of this program is that nobody needs to come. But still, we’ve made such good friends, it’s been such a big community effort and I’ve got lots of good soup ideas out of it,” she said.

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Career help being given to prospective graduates in aviation, hospitality: Josephine Teo

SINGAPORE: Schools are giving career guidance to students who are entering sectors that have been hard-hit by COVID-19, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (Nov 2).

She was responding to Tampines GRC Member of Parliament Desmond Choo, who asked how students majoring in disciplines related to aerospace, aviation and hospitality were being prepared for their graduation next year.

These sectors have been particularly affected by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as overseas travel ground to a halt.

Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have started career guidance and assistance programmes, as well as help to explore “adjacent career opportunities”, Mrs Teo said. 

“We are organising career fairs that feature job openings in adjacent sectors which will make good use of the graduates’ education and skills,” she said. 

READ: More than 1,900 early childhood work opportunities available as part of SGUnited Jobs and Skills programmes

The IHLs are also introducing new electives for students to equip them with skills that are sought after, such as data analytics and visualisation, programming and digital marketing, she added.

Mrs Teo said that the Government has introduced the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, which has curated more than 21,000 traineeship places from about 3,300 host organisations.

“In general, employers are open to accepting good candidates across a range of disciplines. Candidates will also have better opportunities if they are open to trying out positions outside of the disciplines they are trained in, or look beyond positions that many applicants have focused on,” she said.

She said that the Education Ministry’s Graduate Employment Survey for graduates in 2020 will be published in the first quarter of 2021, and this will give some indication about the prospects for the cohort graduating next year.

IN FOCUS: Graduating into a COVID-19 jobs market – short-term challenges and longer-term issues?

In response to supplementary questions by Mr Choo, Mrs Teo said that about half of the students in aerospace engineering could still secure internships related to their area of study. 

The other half of the students were able to secure internships in other areas, such as manufacturing, where they can apply their skills. In aviation management, about 60 per cent of students have been able to get internships, even if it is not directly involved in their field of study, she said. 

“That gives us a sense as to how the collective efforts of agencies involved, together with the students own willingness to step out of their comfort zone – they have been able to secure meaningful internships which we believe will enable them to be better positioned for the job market.”

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Victoria records two COVID-19 cases; Melbourne, regional Victoria retail, hospitality restrictions lifted, NSW to wait after Qld election for border decision, Australia death toll at 907

“What we, all of us as Victorians, have built is a precious thing but it is fragile,” Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday.

“We want everyone to be vigilant, and understand that … we can’t take it for granted.”

The Burnet Institute’s Mike Toole, who at the end of the first wave of the pandemic raised concerns about the speed at which restrictions were lifted, said he was buoyed by the government’s current cautious approach.

He said he expected restrictions on household gatherings to ease some more but warned against allowing 20 people to meet at homes, as was allowed after the first wave.

“The hotel quarantine leak alone didn’t start the second wave,” Professor Toole said. “It was fuelled by the easing of restrictions … there were large family gatherings and we don’t want that this time.

“I would expect the government to ease restrictions gradually, maybe from two to five to 10, but I wouldn’t like it to get to 20 again.”

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Melbourne, Victoria lockdown restrictions eased by Daniel Andrews for retail, hospitality; state records zero COVID-19 cases, NSW continues streak of zero transmission, Australia death toll at 905


“Obviously in the context of very strong restrictions people aren’t having contact with many people, but we think that puts us in an extremely good position to use the app going forward,” she said.

The app was developed as part of the government’s COVIDSafe strategy, which included advertising for social distancing and good hygiene practices.

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said Labor was supportive of any tool to ease the burden of the pandemic.

But given Australia has recorded 27,520 cases of COVID-19 and uncovered hundreds of thousands of close contacts the app was clearly ineffective.

“This app has been a huge bungle,” he said.

Senate estimates also heard on Monday that the level of mental distress has increased across Australia but soared in Victoria as the pandemic has worn on.

Outside Victoria and NSW, use of Kids Helpline increased 18 per cent, Beyond Blue use rose 8 per cent, and Lifeline calls increased by 18 per cent, senate estimates heard.

But in Victoria alone, Kids Helpline services rose by 61 per cent, Beyond Blue help went up by 67 per cent and Lifeline calls rose by 40 per cent.

Use of medicare mental health services in Victoria in the four weeks to October 11 was also 31 per cent higher than the equivalent four-week period a year earlier, first assistant secretary for the Department of Health Mark Roddam said.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith asked Mr Roddam if that showed the pandemic had affected Victorians more than the rest of the country.

“Clearly Victorians are reaching out for support in a much larger proportion than the rest of the country,” Mr Roddam said on Monday.

Senator Smith whether demand for mental health services was continuing to increase or whether it had peaked, Mr Roddam said he expected those numbers were coming back down.

“I would think senator based on what we saw in the rest of the country from May onwards that we would start to see those numbers come back now, as the pandemic in Victoria comes under control,” he said.

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New coronavirus rules for regional Victoria include more visitors allowed in homes and increased seating for hospitality

Regional Victoria is taking another step towards ‘COVID normal’.

New rules mean there are more opportunities to welcome visitors to your home, and cafes and restaurants can increase their capacity.

But rather than removing the border with metropolitan Melbourne, as some families and businesses had hoped for, Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government would actually strengthen the “ring of steel” around the city.

That means there will be more checkpoints, and more vehicles pulled over, to ensure drivers have a permitted reason to travel.

“That will not be there forever and we will have freedom of movement within our state when it is safe to do so — but that is not now,” Mr Andrews said.

“We want people in Melbourne to stay in Melbourne. Follow the rules and get the [coronavirus] numbers in Melbourne as low as they are in regional Victoria, then we will all be able to move freely around our state.”

The Premier says more checkpoints will be established to limit travel between Melbourne and regional areas.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Here’s what is changing in regional Victoria from Monday.

Visiting friends and family

People in regional Victoria can invite two people, plus their dependents, to their home.

This replaces the social bubble, which has been scrapped.

It means you could invite a different family to your house each day, capped at two adults and any dependent children or adults who cannot be left alone.

“The bubble is gone,” Mr Andrews said. “You can have as many different families visit you but they can only be two adults and dependents at a time, per day.”

One household will also be allowed to visit a patient or resident in a care facility, for up to two hours.

But there could be some different restrictions at times, depending on the circumstances of the resident and the individual facility.

Increased capacity for hospitality

Cafes and restaurants in regional Victoria will be allowed to double the number of patrons they seat indoors, from 20 to 40.

Individual bookings will still be capped at 10 people and each group must be seated at least 1.5 metres away from others.

There will also be a cap of 10 diners per indoor space and it will be subject to density rules of no more than one person per 4 square metres.

Businesses must continue to check that customers live in regional Victoria. And, unfortunately, a recent outbreak means the indoor dining limits won’t increase in Greater Shepparton for an extra week.

Across regional Victoria, including Shepparton, outdoor spaces will be able to hold more people — up to 70 patrons per venue, as long as they comply with a one person per 2 square metres density requirement.

Food courts are still restricted to takeaway and delivery only.

A brown Labrador waits outside a cafe as four diners sit at outdoor tables
The Government is encouraging more outdoor dining, where the risk of coronavirus transmission is lower.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Sport and recreation

Indoor pools can reopen for people aged 18 and under, including for swimming lessons, but will be capped at a maximum of 20 swimmers.

One-on-one hydrotherapy sessions will also be allowed indoors, if accompanied by a health professional.

Libraries and toy libraries can reopen for a maximum of 20 people, with no more than 10 people per space.

From November 1 some junior indoor sport can resume in regional Victoria.

This is limited to non-contact activities, such as dance classes and trampolining, which can be done at a distance of 1.5 metres from others.

Spectators will be limited to one parent or guardian if a child requires supervision, and all activities will be capped at 20 people.

Religious gatherings, weddings and funerals

Outdoor religious gatherings can increase to 20 people.

This will increase to 50 people from November 1.

The number of people allowed at weddings and funerals has not changed, and remains at 10 and 20 respectively.

Bushfire and flood preparation

While people living in regional Victoria are already free to travel to other regional areas, those living in Melbourne have been prevented from visiting their holiday homes or second properties.

But with bushfire season around the corner, and the weather bureau warning of possible flooding in some parts of the state, Mr Andrews has announced a process to allow essential preparation to be undertaken.

Regional councils will begin issuing fire prevention notices from Wednesday, which will allow Melburnians to travel to regional properties in need of fire or flood prevention.

But while they’re there they will have to comply by the rules that apply in Melbourne, meaning no dining in restaurants, no long holidays and no accessing beauty services.


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Hobart council urged to take back waterfront site if developer fails to build hospitality training school

The Chinese company behind controversial plans for a tourism and hospitality training school on Hobart’s waterfront has pledged to come up with another development for the site if its original $80 million proposal proves unviable.

Chambroad has asked Clarence Council for an extension on its plans to build the combined training school and hotel at Kangaroo Bay, about 10 minutes from Hobart’s CBD, blaming coronavirus for its inability to get started on the project first proposed in 2015.

Aldermen will meet on Monday evening to discuss a confidential update on the plans.

There has been community opposition to the plans since they were first proposed, mostly centred on how the land was made available to the developers and the size and scale of the project, which some argue is out of step with the area.  

Mayor Doug Chipman and the Coordinator-General John Perry have travelled to China on trips funded by Tasmanians to meet with the developers.

Because of the delays in starting the project, the council could choose to buy back the former Crown Land site once valued by the State Government at $2.5 million.

Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff said she was worried the council would vote to give Chambroad an “open extension” to allow for a development different to the plans first approved by the council in early 2017.

Several sources have confirmed the company has offered to come up with a “Plan B” in exchange for holding on to the parcel of land.

“The community has fought this development from the beginning,” Ms Woodruff said.

“What they don’t want is an extension to be given to the company for the land to sit vacant for an unknown purpose for an indefinite period of time.”

Clarence alderman Tony Mulder said he would need a lot of persuading to grant the two-year extension requested by the company.

Clarence Council Mayor Doug Chipman declined to comment, but said a “full report” on the development would be uploaded to the council’s website on Thursday.

Rules changed for home voting

Chambroad is yet to lock in partners to deliver training courses or the promised five-star hotel.

With a tight vote on the extension expected at a public meeting, the council has taken the unusual step of allowing an alderman in home quarantine to vote on the matter remotely.

Alderman Luke Edmunds said he supported having his council colleague Brendan Blomeley attend the meeting virtually but questioned the timing of the rule change.

Mr Blomeley will text and email his votes from the October 12 council meeting to Mr Chipman and the council’s general manager.

He said it was the appropriate course of action in what were “exceptional circumstances”.

“I’m not going to allow myself to be disenfranchised because I made a decision to travel to Sydney to spend time with my children,” Mr Blomeley said.

“I was elected to do a job and I’m going to do that job.”

Mr Edmunds said he supported having his council colleague participate in the meeting remotely but questioned the timing of the rule change.

In June, Mr Edmunds planned to move to allow for virtual attendance of council meetings as part of a broader motion related to coronavirus measures but dropped the clause due to a lack of support among his colleagues.

Remote voting was given the green light on Friday thanks to general manager Ian Nelson’s interpretation of State Government coronavirus laws — with the approval of the Director of Local Government — rather than a vote of aldermen.

“I said to the mayor and general manager, ‘Have you considered how this will look?’,” Mr Edmunds said.

“The first time we will see the policy in effect is for the biggest decision this year.”

Calls for council to drop the development

Ms Woodruff has urged the council to vote to take back the Kangaroo Bay site and open tenders for a new proposal.

“It’s really concerning that this is all being kept in the dark,” she said.

“It’s pretty clear that Chambroad is unable to meet the requirements of the proposal that was approved by council, so this really should be dropped.”

State Growth Minister Michael Ferguson said the State Government backed the project.

“We’re aware of the challenges that that particular project faces and we hope that Clarence City Council and Chambroad are able to overcome their issues, so we can see an exciting tourism and hospitality training school built which will also result in jobs during construction,” he said.

Chambroad has been contacted for comment.

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Hospitality businesses urge Federal Government to dump Fringe Benefits Tax in 2020 Budget

Struggling South Australian cafes and restaurants are urging the Australian Government to dump the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) in Tuesday’s Federal Budget.

The tax increases the cost of work lunches and dinners.

South Australia’s peak business body, Business SA, has called for exemptions for businesses from paying the tax to boost the local economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Business SA chief executive Martin Haese said it would give South Australian businesses “a shot in the arm”.

“We know it will have an immediate and positive benefit for thousands of hard-working South Australian business owners,” Mr Haese said.

Business SA chief executive Martin Haese believes cutting the FBT tax would protect hospitality jobs in SA.(ABC News: Robyn Powell)

Mr Haese said it would mean the Federal Government receives $14 million less in FBT revenue from South Australia each year.

“This is a relatively small price for the Federal Government to pay to protect more of the 61,000 jobs of South Australians employed in the hospitality industry,” he said.

Employers also pay FBT on behalf of employees for perks such as company cars, gym memberships or tickets to a concert.

‘The time is now and we’ve got to do it’

Adelaide restaurant owner Cono Gorgone said his business has cut about a quarter of its staff during the pandemic.

Mr Gorgone said a Federal Government FBT exemption in this year’s Federal Budget would help soften the blow of the 40 per cent reduction in customers walking through his doors.

“A 200-seat restaurant would have to go to 90 seats because of the social distancing.

“That means instead of making what a normal cashflow would be at 100 per cent, we’d really be running at 50 per cent.”

He said today’s rules are a far cry from the 1980s when the FBT did not exist.

“In the 80s it was just thriving. Especially the lunches, they were just great. The business lunches, the boys in their suits and the long lunches.

“I think right now it’s a bit of an urgent situation where this would be the most appropriate time for the Government … to proceed with getting rid of FBT, ASAP.”

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