Sydney, Australia – As residents of Australia’s second largest city flock to restaurants for dinner and drinks, Sarah Dennithorne plans to close some of her pizzerias during the busy Christmas season.
Since Melbourne left one of the world’s longest shutdowns in October, Dennithorne, who runs multiple branches of Sal’s Authentic New York Pizza, has struggled to fill vacancies in the kitchen and front of the house. .
Before the pandemic, she could easily receive 100 to 150 applications for every job. These days, she’s lucky to have five.
âI have been running hotel businesses in Melbourne for 20 years and have never seen anything like it,â Dennithorne told Al Jazeera.
As Australia emerges from nearly two years of lockdowns and border closures, many small businesses, especially in hospitality and retail, are struggling to find qualified staff, largely due to the absence of backpackers and international students during the pandemic.
Australia on Wednesday opened borders to students and migrants vaccinated for the first time since March 2020 in an attempt to revive the economy and live with COVID-19.
Jobs website Seek reported earlier this month that vacancies in the hospitality and tourism sector rose 76% in November compared to the same period last year, while that applications per job have reached an all-time high.
The website attributed the shortage to “a growing number of job openings, a smaller talent pool and a nation of workers more aware than ever of job security.”
On Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, Andrew Anthony, owner of the butcher-turned-restaurant Macelleria Bondi, has been posting job vacancies online for weeks, only to receive few responses – or to see which ones he’s managed to find. recruit do not show up for work.
With the help of his college-aged daughter, Anthony has finally managed to recruit several part-time students, but is still unable to fill all the vacancies.
âIt has been terrible and hopeless,â he said.
Sean Edwards, managing director of industry magazine Cafe Culture International, told Al Jazeera that hospitality companies are finding that many people have left the industry permanently to “go look for other jobs” during the pandemic.
Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association, told Al Jazeera that the retail industry has also been hit hard.
“Many companies have struggled to retain their current staff during Delta’s lockdowns when they could not trade from their physical stores, which left them short-staffed for the reopening and this remains an ongoing challenge for two months. later, âZahra said.
Michael Coelli, professor of economics at the University of Melbourne, told Al Jazeera that the retail and hospitality sectors, in particular, have become dependent on temporary visa holders.
âThere just aren’t enough workers to do this kind of work,â Coelli said. âIndustries that are reasonably large in Australia require a lot of semi-skilled and unskilled people and we don’t necessarily have them. A large number of migrants to meet the demand, this has been going on for a long time.
Australia lost more than 375,000 migrants to border closures during the year through March 2021 alone, according to figures compiled by accounting firm Ernst & Young, with government projections estimating a deficit of 830,000 people by 2024.
The Treasury estimated that population growth would slow to 0.2% in 2020-2021 and to 0.4% the following year – the weakest growth in more than 100 years. Fitch Ratings estimated in October that slowing population growth would cause gross domestic product to decline 2% by 2026.
Coelli said the recent reopening of the border is unlikely to reduce staff shortages for some time.
“It may take a while for people to feel confident about coming to Australia, given why the borders have been closed with very little notice for a while,” he said.
âThe industry is simply not creating and training enough new workers and does not have enough apprentices in these fields. “
Sandy Chong, CEO of the Australian Hairdressing Council, told Al Jazeera that although its industry relies heavily on foreign labor, there is a lack of avenues for migrant workers to stay in Australia permanently.
Chong said there were also not enough apprentices in the industry, even before the pandemic, as many would quit even before completing their training.
For Dennithorne, the owner of the pizzeria in Melbourne, it’s uncertain whether she can find staff to keep her restaurants open over Christmas. But she hopes workers will return to the industry after taking some time to recover from the pressure of the pandemic.
âI hear from my young team that people are leaving because they’ve just burned out over the past 18 very hectic months,â she said.
âI hope people will just take Christmas time off, relax and debrief and spend time with family, and then come back to work on New Years,â she said.