During the pandemic, shutdowns, hard borders, social distancing, and isolation orders have combined to savage Australian hospitality businesses.

On average, there are 30% fewer hospitality shift work hours compared to pre-pandemic, says shift-work platform Deputy. Add to that the ‘shadow’ shutdown during the Omicron variant means foot trade can be unpredictable for businesses.

Now there’s another challenge – finding workers for the sector that includes accommodation, cafes and restaurants, clubs, pubs, taverns and bars. Many skilled staff have found work elsewhere in pandemic-proof industries and the dwindling influx of migrant labour continues to bite. Nearly four in 10 employers in accommodation and food services report difficulty recruiting staff – the highest of any industry.

According to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, all hospitality will grow in the next three years with significantly more sales assistants, waiters and chefs needed. By 2025, the food and beverage services will require 846,400 workers and accommodation 101,000 staff.

Impact on regional Australia

Shortages have also left regional businesses needing staff. Especially when domestic tourism increased after the groundswell of border closures and lockdowns were lifted.

However, regional hospitality businesses still struggle to attract local staff and can’t rely, as they once did, on the flow of overseas workers. These employers have a significantly smaller pool of would-be staff than their city peers.

For example, tourists are surprised to find few eateries open on NSW’s north coast, says ABC News Online. That’s due to a scarcity of staff. To put it into perspective, tourism is a key employer in regional areas, accounting for 5.2% of the Australian workforce pre-COVID.

Keeping staff safe on the job

With the staff shortages biting, hospitality employers are under pressure on many fronts to keep their employees safe and healthy. Workers are vulnerable to exposure to the virus due to their public-facing roles and physically close working conditions with their peers. Managing these risks involving staff will include:

  • Following public health orders on social distancing, hand sanitising, RATs testing, vaccinations, mask-wearing, etc. and having signs and stickers about as reminders
  • Regular surface and accommodation room cleaning. The virus can survive on surfaces for days, says WebMD
  • Training and refresher courses for staff about the importance of hygiene
  • Setting up your sterilisation protocols such as for pens, lift buttons, and other touchpoints at reception areas before and after use
  • Ensuring staff have easy access to gloves, masks and sterilisation products
  • Being clear on when staff need to self-isolate

Strategies to work through the shortage

Here’s what hospitality businesses have been doing to keep operating and innovating:

  • Moving from dine-in to only take-out, reduced open hours and limiting menu options
  • Temporarily shuttering
  • Offering thousands of dollars in sign-on bonuses to poach workers from competitors
  • Increasing staff wages to be more competitive, in some cases up to 30%
  • Having managers and owners do shifts
  • Partnering with high schools and TAFE colleges’ apprenticeship programs
  • Tapping into gap-year programs for school leavers, such as Thankful4Farmers
  • Rostering double shifts, often with less staff
  • Giving staff bonuses to bring their friends and family members into work roles
  • Same-day hiring for public-facing roles, such as hotel group Accor, with a well-developed orientation program
  • Sourcing accommodation for key staff for hospitality businesses in regional areas
  • Finding staff ‘top-up hours’ in other fields when work in your hospitality venture is patchy
  • Mentoring and guiding staff about hospitality career pathways
  • Lowering hiring standards due to the scarcity of skilled, trained staff
  • Valuing would-be workers who have customer service, organisational or time management skills from other sectors
  • Offering staff more flexible hours, perks such as gym memberships or discounts, sponsored training, paid holidays, and sick days.

Protect yourself with workers’ comp

Your hospitality business can also manage its risks with workers’ compensation insurance to protect workers should they suffer a work-related injury, disease, or infection. It’s compulsory cover you pay for staff whether they’re full-time, part-time, casual, an apprentice, trainee and have a written or oral service contract with you. Check your state or territory scheme for rules applying to your jurisdiction.

It’s also handy to know how you could lower your premium, such as through:

  • An apprentice incentive scheme
  • Reporting any injuries quickly to avoid paying your claim excess
  • Earning discounts for annual premiums paid in full on or before the due date
  • Particular insurers give a 7.5% employer safety discount at the start of each policy period to help you make your workplace safer
  • Discounts for a solid safety performance that some insurers offer, though not every year.

We can advise you on risk management strategies that will reduce the likelihood and impact of workers comp claims on your business, including during staff shortages.