Economic Watch: Labour crunch deals severe blow to Australia's hospitality industry

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, November 19, 2021
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SYDNEY, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- As Australia has emerged from COVID-19 lockdown, keen diners have shown up in droves to restaurants, cafes and bars, while owners have scrambled to find staff to meet the surging demand.

SEEK, one of the largest job recruitment platforms in Australia, reported earlier this month that the number of job ads in October increased by 63.2 percent year on year, the highest number since the company was established 23 years ago.

Kay, a recruiter for a Korean restaurant in central Sydney, said it has been almost impossible to find enough workers on such short notice.

"All the student workers and people on working holidays have already gone back to Korea, so we need to hire many workers," she told Xinhua.

Kay is among thousands of hospitality recruiters littering job ads with words like "urgent" and "immediate start" in an effort to entice workers in the overcrowded recruiting market that is now offering higher-than-average wages, flexible hours and lowered experience requirements.

However, "people also want more money and easier jobs," she said.

This phenomenon seemed to contradict the country's unemployment figures which grew to 5.2 percent at the end of October from 4.6 percent one month earlier, according to the latest data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Tim Harcourt, professor and chief economist at the University of Technology Sydney, told Xinhua this is a likely indicator that Australia's economy is doing better than expected.

"I think the higher unemployment rate is a reflection that more people looking for work," said Harcourt, adding that "yet there are tight labour markets in some low-wage sectors."

The labour shortage has left the hospitality sector struggling to keep pace with demand, as the peak season over school holidays and Christmas is approaching.

Stephen McGuire, owner of a hospitality recruitment agency in Sydney, told Xinhua his workload has been "crazy" since lockdown ended.

Restaurants have to reduce opening hours, said McGuire, adding that "restaurants normally were open seven days a week nowadays have to cut down to five days because there are not enough workers."

He said the hospitality venues have begun raising wages to address the labour shortage.

In his view, the outlook for the industry would be "dismal", until Australia opens its borders to overseas workers, such as backpackers and students, who used to supplement the labour force in service industry.

Harcourt argued that filling Australia's unskilled labour market with foreign workers was a "band-aid solution".

"In the long term, it's not fair for the temporary workers, also not fair for the people who want to be permanent workers and know their rights," said Harcourt.

He said the federal and state governments are supposed to find more sustainable ways to manage immigration, in order not to leave the employers in Australia at the mercy of what he called "the Russian roulette of the immigration system."

Recognizing the looming crunch, the state government of New South Wales offered some 3000 free training courses in October, in an attempt to bolster the workforce ahead of Christmas.

The hospitality industry and governments would ultimately be forced to adapt to the new climate, Harcourt said, adding that better bargaining power and rising wages would benefit workers. Enditem

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