By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – After two years of COVID-19 lockdowns, Australia is set to party, but venues, from restaurants to sports stadiums, face a tough summer after a huge exodus of vacationing workers and foreign students.
Strict border closures have left a yawning hole in the casual worker market, with hospitality-focused companies like Sydney’s AlSeasons being forced to turn down some jobs even as the economy opens up.
“Before the lockdown you could place an ad and have hundreds of applicants,” said Rhondda Everingham, hiring manager at the hotel staffing company.
“Now you’re lucky if you have five and maybe have three that are suitable, and by the time you find them they will have another job.” “
Labor shortages are hitting state-owned companies the hardest, those already hit hardest by months of continued shutdowns in Sydney’s two largest cities, which ended numerous COVID-19 restrictions on October 11 , and Melbourne, which moved at the end of last week.
Government statistics show that the number of non-resident workers in the country – often travelers on work visas – fell by two-thirds in the June 2021 quarter compared to early 2020.
The drop in the number of international students has been almost as dramatic, said Peter Hurley, education policy researcher at Victoria University. There are now some 300,000 fewer international students living in Australia than at the start of the pandemic, a drop of more than half.
That has left businesses in Sydney, home to a quarter of Australia’s 2.2 million casual workers, struggling to find staff as the city emerges from a four-month shutdown.
In the event’s first major staff test, a football match at a stadium took eight days to find 730 kitchen, service, cleaning and security workers for 22,500 spectators allowed on October 25.
Stadium operator VenuesLive got the staff because there weren’t any other big events at the same time, a company representative said, noting that “hospitality businesses around the world are meeting personnel problems “.
The state government of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, plans to take back a modest number of international students and has said it wants immigration to Australia to double from pre-COVID levels to 400,000 people per year to fill labor shortages.
For now, the federal government, which enjoyed popular support for hardline border closures at the start of the pandemic, is sticking to a gradual reopening. It says only Australian citizens, residents and their family members can currently enter the country.
Even when foreign nationals return, many employers face a delay in hiring them as they require staff with local experience and competent English, AlSeasons’ Everingham said.
So employers add incentives.
Australian Venue Co, owner of 160 pubs and clubs across the country, said it was offering vouchers of A $ 1,000 ($ 745) for new kitchen and dining employees who stay more than three months due to difficulties in finding staff.
MSS Security, which guards universities, businesses and government buildings around Sydney, will spend A $ 1million per year to fund industry-required training and help fill vacancies that have doubled to 400 since early 2020, CEO Geoff Alcock said.
Pompei’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Bondi Beach, negotiated through the lockdown offering take-out and delivery, but now closes for weekday and all-Monday lunches for the first time in 20 years as half of its staff have left the country, said owner George Pompei.
Despite the advertisement of a 2000 Australian dollar cash “login bonus” for waiters and bar staff, no one showed up for an interview.
“Before, you couldn’t wait to hear the phone ring and people who wanted to book and queue up front. Now you hardly want it anymore,” Pompei said. “This is the new ‘COVID-normal’.”
($ 1 = AU $ 1.3414)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Richard Pullin)