Covid-19 worker shortage: PM Jacinda Ardern ‘aware of the issues’ facing hospitality sector, signals moves ‘soon’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is “aware of the issues” around worker shortages in hospitality and signals there will be moves to address them in the “not too distant future”.

This morning, the Herald reported the owners of three top Auckland restaurants will be closing their businesses for two weeks because they don’t have staff to keep going through the school holidays.

Restaurateurs Sid and Chand Sahrawat, who own Cassia, Sidart and Sid at the French Cafe, said the closures would cost them about $300,000 in takings, but they didn’t have a choice.

“We just don’t have the people, and our staff have been working one-and-a-half times just to keep the business going and they are physically and mentally drained,” Chand Sahrawat said.

Pre-Covid, New Zealand’s hospitality industry was made up of between 25-30 per cent of migrant workers but now this was down to about 15 per cent, with shortages sector-wide, according to the Restaurant Association.

Chand Sahrawat said the businesses required about 65 staff to run, but was now down to about 50 because of the border closures and immigration rules that made it difficult for people to renew their work visas.

She had published an open letter in May about their worker shortages, saying the Government was “cutting off our lifeblood”.

Ardern said she was aware of the open letter and wider challenges facing the hospitality sector.

The Government’s response was about encouraging sectors to draw on and train the New Zealand workforce, while looking at areas where there were still issues.

“Certainly from hospitality we have known for some time, particularly those who have staff as part of the team on visas due run out.

“The other sector we hear that call from is the primary sector.

“We have heard that a lot, of the pressure and how hard it is to find labour domestically.”

Cabinet had discussed what could be done for areas that had been doing a lot of work to increase the local workforce but genuine need remained.

Extending visas was something Cabinet was considering, Ardern said.

“There will be more on that in the not too distant future.”

About 2000 restaurants across the country will switch off their lights for two minutes in protest to bring attention to the industry’s staffing crisis.

The action is part of a two-month “Reset campaign” led by the Restaurant Association that started with a petition last month calling for further government consultation on its immigration policy.

“The situation is beyond critical and is seriously impacting our businesses from keeping their doors open,” said association chief executive Marisa Bidois.

“With 20,000 workers needed over the next five years in the sector, this is a real issue for our industry and we want to work with government to find workable solutions that keep businesses operational.”

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government was aware of the challenges Covid-19 presented for businesses, including tourism and hospitality, but the measures put in place to protect our borders have helped prevent the spread of the virus and allowed business activity to continue.

Faafoi said the Government regularly reviewed border settings and made adjustments where and when that has been possible.

The Government would continue to monitor the border and labour market situations. It is also trying to process a large number of work visa applications from people overseas as quickly as possible, Faafoi said.

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