The call for relaxation of immigration settings to fill the critical shortage of skilled workforce for small businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, is gaining traction.
The hospitality sector around the country had taken the unprecedented step of switching off lights at 7 pm on Tuesday, July 6, to bring the government’s attention to the staffing crisis – a move that many restaurateurs are saying had some impact.
The campaign was part of collective advocacy by the Restaurant Association, where the restaurants tried to raise awareness and educate customers on the degree of impact the skill shortages are having and generate public support.
“It’s a point in time when we will pause service, highlighting what it would be like without our staff, and without our businesses, if we are forced to close due to our staffing challenges,” a post on their website said.
Explaining the rationale of choosing a busy time for switching off lights, the spokesperson said, “The time has been chosen as a busy service time, when you are more likely to have fuller dining spaces, for greater impact.”
Many restaurants participating in the campaign believed that some limited objective of creating awareness amongst members of the public might have been achieved.
Glen Eden based Little India restaurant posted on its Facebook page, “Thank you to our customers for being so understanding as we turned the #LightsOut last night for two minutes. We had some really fantastic discussions with our customers about how the current legislation has created a skills shortage that affects the hospitality industry.”
The Indian Weekender spoke with Little India’s owner Bobby Arora who shared the level of frustration that many restaurants were facing while hiring skilled staff.
“I am short of a couple of staff and had no success despite a sustained hiring campaign in past months,” Arora said.
“As a result, I have decided to keep my restaurant closed for one day in a week, which is incurring a loss.”
On being asked how the impact of the turn-off light campaign Bobby said that it was encouraging as his customers had not much idea of what the hospitality industry, in general, was facing.
“The diners come out to dine and have a wonderful hospitality experience without much knowledge of the major issues in front of the industry,” Bobby said.
“The current staff shortage is crippling for many of us,” Bobby Arora said.
Sooraj Gupta (name changed), who owns multiple restaurants and bars in the Auckland region, told the Indian Weekender (on condition of anonymity) that the kind of staff shortage they were facing for their multiple sites is debilitating.
“We are willing to hire locals as per the current government’s directive and ready to train them if they turn up to work,” Gupta said.
“We have put up an advert for the last two months for frontline hospitality staff for our bar in Helensville, Auckland and have barely received three responses.”
“However, what is more frustrating is their attitudes towards job interview and the kind of demands and expectations they put forward much before getting the role.”
“Out of three responses from locals, two have expressed inability to work on weekends and after hours on weeknights.”
“Gosh! How are we supposed to run a hospitality business which largely operates exactly in those hours,” Gupta said frustratingly?
“Hiring work visa holders is even more difficult as not only one has to agree to pay far higher rates at $27 per hour (as opposed to average $21 per hour) but also agree to provide certainty in terms of providing visa support” Gupta said.
For the uninitiated, a lot of small businesses are sceptical of the upcoming accreditation system that will allow only accredited employers to be able to sponsor and support work visas of migrant workers (November 2021).
Another food entrepreneur, Sanjani Singh, who has delved into the restaurant business, opening a vegan café Elaichi in the popular Sandringham suburb in Auckland, very recently two months ago also shares a similar pain.
Posting on her Facebook page Sanjani has appealed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to help her hire local staff for her new business, which is already struggling and not on the full menu.
“NEED HELP TO PASS A MESSAGE TO OUR LOVELY PM JACINDA!! Can she help me hire LOCALS for my workplace and people who actually want to work!! She has been asking to hire locals, and I’ve been trying for a few months now, but the locals are not applying, even with a higher pay rate!!,” Sanjani’s post said.
The Indian Weekender spoke with her to gauge the level of frustration she was experiencing.
“I have managed my thirty-year-old family business for years before venturing independently into the food industry pursuing my dream project,” Sanjani said.
“However, the first two months of experience is nothing similar to what we have experienced in running our family business for three decades.”
“The responses I got for the job advert is nothing less than disrespectful as they start putting conditions even before they have secured the role,” Sanjani said frustratingly about hiring local staff.
“I am not in a position to hire expensive work visa holders as the cost will be debilitating for my new business,” Sanjani said.
( Sandeep Singh)