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Urgent skills shortage hindering recovery

Casual skilled staff exited sector during lockdown

Australia is facing an alarming shortage of skilled workers in the accommodation industry that could take years to repair.

That’s the ominous warning from industry leaders as properties around the nation try to recover from COVID lockdowns and the end of the JobKeeper subsidy.

Accommodation Australia CEO Dean Long says the shortage of skilled workers includes chefs, kitchen staff, highly skilled room attendants, and cleaners.

“If the Government doesn’t help our industry to keep these workers, they will be lost to it,” Mr Long said. “They will find other jobs. And the danger is if they are gone it may take years for us to regain skilled workers when borders re-open.”

Michael Johnson, the CEO of Tourism Accommodation Australia, said he had not seen such a shortage in Australia’s accommodation workforce in 40 years in the industry.

“It is a real crisis, both with the labour shortage and the skills shortage,” Mr Johnson said.

“It’s frightful.

“It largely stems from the fact we don’t have the working holidaymakers of previous years to support our industry

“We are a heavily casualised industry. When COVID hit, workers had to have been employed for 12 months to get any support. So many people in our industry left. We had lockdowns and temporary closures of properties and a lot of those staff went off and found jobs in other industries, too.

“So here we are starting to pick up, and all we need to do is have a busy weekend like Easter and we have hotels that have to hold back and are not filling to capacity because we don’t have the workers to actually service the guests’ needs.

“So many properties can’t get enough chefs, can’t get food and beverage attendants, can’t get housekeepers.”

Mr Long said the skill shortages meant Australia could lose its lofty position in the global hotel market if hotels and resorts were not able to give the usual high standards of service because of staff shortages.

“Hamilton Island is a classic example of a holiday destination which could be operating at a much higher capacity than it probably is,” Mr Long said, “but they simply don’t have the staff to operate all their services and facilities.

“In some cases they actually have to close portions of their business because they don’t have the staff on the ground to run them and it’s the same situation at many of the islands.’’

Mr Long said Australian workers would not travel to distant areas for work unless they were offered big wages as was the case in the mining industry with fly in, fly out staff.

“The accommodation industry can’t pay those sort of mining wages, because the prices for accommodation would need to be so high there would be no customers,” he said.

Mr Long and Mr Johnson are imploring the Government to adopt a $270million support package for hotels in Sydney and Melbourne which have been hardest hit by lockdowns and border closures.

“Those hotels are experiencing some peaks on weekends,” Mr Johnson said, “but once it gets back to Monday they are back to 25 percent and still in a lot of pain. They need the Government support to keep their staff through these tough times so they can bounce back when borders re-open.”

Mr Long said the Federal Government had shown a lack of understanding and a lack of willingness to act over the problems COVID presented for the accommodation industry,

“In our recent meetings with the Government they talked about releasing accommodation labour back into the economy to drive productivity,” Mr Long said, “but that shows a complete lack of understanding by the Treasury and the Government.

“This idea that you could release staff from Sydney and Melbourne and they were all going to move to North Queensland or Perth or Adelaide – it’s just not going to happen.

“Skilled workers in the accommodation industry are not going to pack up their lives and move somewhere else when they can get a job where they live, even if it is in a different industry.”

Grantlee Kieza

Grantlee Kieza OAM has won three Queensland Media Awards, two Australian Sports Commission Awards and has been a finalist for the Walkley and News Awards and for the Harry Gordon Award for Australian sports journalist of the year. In 2019 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his writing. You can find more of his writing in our upcoming Accom News print magazine!

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