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‘Not a pretty picture’: Labour shortage pinch this Christmas

Restaurant and cafe staff are going to be under the pump during the upcoming Christmas holidays.

Restaurant and cafe staff are going to be under the pump during the upcoming Christmas holidays. Photo: Getty

Australia’s hospitality sector is facing a worsening labour shortage, with fears the Christmas rush could be too much for overworked staff.

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 100,000 jobs in the hospitality industry advertised on Seek, ranging from chefs to wait staff.

This was an 18 per cent increase in the sector’s job advertisements on Seek compared to October last year, Australian Foodservice Advocacy Body director Wes Lambert said.

With venues struggling to attract staff as Australia’s unemployment rate sits at a 50-year low of 3.4 per cent, Mr Lambert said the busy Christmas period could prompt remaining workers to leave if they can’t keep up with picking up the slack of missing staff.

“The massive workforce shortage puts tremendous pressure on the remaining staff to do the same amount of work with less people,” he said.

“[This could] certainly lead to burnout and further a further flight from the industry.”

Labour shortage pressures staff and prices

Melbourne business owner Maz Salt, who runs multiple hospitality venues including Brunswick-based B.East, is struggling to attract workers despite loosened COVID-19 measures and open borders.

He considers himself lucky he still has a number of long-term staff on hand, but said those that remain are stressed by the long hours and extra work caused by short-staffing.

“Everyone pitches in to try to get the job done, but it’s not ideal, that’s for sure,” he said.

In a bid to attract workers, many staff-starved venues have increased pay packets, which could eventually flow on to customers as inflation continues to rise.

“We’ve got rising input costs on every front. The cost of our raw materials is going up at an extremely rapid rate, fresh produce is see-sawing all over the place, and labour costs are going up.

“The prices are staying as static as we can make them, but the pressures are building in the system, and it’s not a pretty picture.”

Older workers start to fill gaps

Given many of his businesses are late-night bar venues, Mr Salt said he hasn’t had much interest from older job applicants.

But the sector in general is starting to see a shifting tide, although younger workers still dominate.

A new report from shift work platform Deputy found more older workers were entering the hospitality industry to fill the gaps left by migrants.

Baby boomers worked 14 per cent of shift work hours so far this year, compared to 13 per cent in 2021, the report stated.

This difference might seem minor, but it comes as the amount of shift work hours completed by Millennial and Gen X workers decreased by 1 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively.

APAC senior economist Callam Pickering said more older workers entering the hospitality sector would make sense given Australia’s older population is growing while the younger population is decreasing, and the whole country is affected by the rising cost of living.

“Businesses in hospitality have had to start looking at different demographics and different types of workers in order to fill some of the roles that they have available,” he said.

“There’s a lot of older people out there looking for additional hours, so it has been a good match for the hospitality industry.”

However, the trickle of older workers into the hospitality workforce isn’t enough to fill the thousands of jobs on offer.

The recent boost to the permanent skilled migration cap, from 160,000 places up to 195,000 could help reduce the shortage of skilled positions such as chefs, Mr Pickering said, as he echoed Mr Lambert’s warning that staff are at risk of burnout over the Christmas holidays.

“Traditionally, there are thousands of roles across the country that come up over Christmas, and there’s always a lot of younger people fighting for those roles. But the reality is, the youth unemployment rate is much lower now than it traditionally has been,” he said.

“What’s likely going to happen is that [businesses] are going to rely more upon their existing staff, getting more hours out of their existing workforce, as a way to cover that additional demand that comes up in the lead up to Christmas.”

Topics: Hospitality
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