By Eildon MP Cindy McCleish - State of Affairs Column
Spare a thought for our small businesses and in particular our hospitality businesses, as they reopen their doors to excited customers flocking to tourist destinations in and around Healesville and Warburton. Hospitality has been hit hard by the lockdowns and restrictions and had to overcome hurdle after hurdle for two years to now reopen and try to get back on their feet.
One of the biggest hurdles for hospitality to overcome has been ongoing staff shortages. I have seen many restaurants, bakeries, pubs and cafes in the Yarra Valley and Upper Yarra advertising to hire waitstaff, bakers, bartenders and chefs. Lockdowns saw tens of thousands of jobs lost from the sector, and with staff struggling to pay the bills they were left with no choice but to leave the industry in search of a more certain future. This has been particularly hard for hospitality owners who have lost the majority of their skilled staff members.
Restaurants across the Yarra Valley region and in Melbourne are known for providing a high standard of hospitality service, with skilled staff often making the experience of dinning out such a luxury for customers. Owners now have to rebuild their team from the ground up, hiring fresh faces who require training and experience to meet that standard.
The hospitality sector is feeling the absence of international travelers, students, skilled migrants and backpackers who make up a large part of employment. Skilled staff returned home during the pandemic and have been unable to come back or cannot move freely between states since borders were closed interstate and internationally, adding to the shortage struggle.
Due to the staff shortages, some hospitality owners have had to reduce their opening hours or have completely changed their business plans to cater for less patrons. The Australian Hotels Association reported findings that the hospitality workforce is only operating at 61 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. After two lost years of lockdowns the last thing hospitality businesses need is a staff shortage to hold them back.
As Victoria reopens and we fast approach the busy Christmas period, now is the time for hospitality to be up and running. People are out and about more than we have been in months, organising Christmas parties, visiting restaurants, catching up with friends at cafes and enjoying a drink at bars. We need hospitality staff back.