He used to receive stacks of resumes from backpackers and remembers having to turn people away every day. But chronic staff shortages – it has lost up to 30% of its workforce – due to a lack of working holidaymakers have forced it to reduce trading at two sites to five days a week.
Mr. Ganley said he was about to give up advertising jobs on SEEK. It also faces the rising cost of utilities and products.
“It’s harder to negotiate now than in the middle of COVID. We need to reduce bureaucracy, remove visa application fees [currently $495]and bring people here because we are running out of options to recruit employees,” he said.
In the six months since the Australian border reopened on December 15, 69,225 working holiday visas have been granted, according to the Home Office.
Of these, only 24,725 entered Australia, meaning there are still 44,500 people with valid visas overseas. By comparison, 269,859 working holidaymakers arrived in Australia in calendar year 2019.
The federal government has refunded the $495 visa fee to visa holders who arrived in Australia between January 19 and April 19 to entice working holidaymakers to return. There has been no word of an extension.
Bryce Edwards, executive chef of the Fitzroy Transformer and Vegie Bar restaurants, said his venues were running empty and sometimes had to cancel entire days of reservations if too many staff were sidelined with COVID-19.
“We’ve always relied on working holidaymakers, but we never realized how much,” Mr Edwards said. “We have to bring them back.”
Jia-Yen Lee had to close his Richmond-based Vietnamese restaurant, Anchovy, for four days over the past two weeks.
She said the widespread shortage of staff revealed an overreliance on foreign workers. But rather than trying to bring them back, Ms Lee said the industry needed to focus on developing the domestic workforce.
“Hospitality is often seen by locals as a stepping stone and not a real career path,” Ms Lee said. “Being a chef, much less a waiter, isn’t viewed the same as being a bubbly or a chippy.”
Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the restaurant industry had lost nearly 100,000 workers during the pandemic and hadn’t got them back.
He agreed with Ms Lee that a two-pronged approach was needed to develop a local workforce while encouraging internationals to return.
Australia’s global reputation for closed borders would take both time and publicity to unravel, Mr Lambert said, adding that state and federal governments needed to think outside the box.
One such example could be the South Australian Tourism Commission’s campaign to lure 200 young British holidaymakers to Australia, announced in late April, with £10 ($17) return flights to Adelaide, channeling the migration program from after war.
It was a smart move that grabbed headlines in the UK, according to an industry leader, but will not be enough to solve chronic shortages of hospitality jobs.
“Bringing in 200 working holidaymakers isn’t going to improve anything,” said Jürgen Himmelmann, chief executive of Global Work and Travel, a youth-focused travel booking company.
He said the federal government and other states should introduce similar incentives, but increase the numbers by looking beyond the UK.
“Working holidaymakers are desperately needed to stimulate the economy,” Mr Himmelmann said.
“And they mostly spend what they earn in Australia and pay income tax here, so subsidizing flights would generate a positive return on investment for government and public funds.”