Hospitality worker shortage hits region

Coastal eateries are not the only businesses in the hospitality industry having trouble finding staff with hotels across the region facing similar issues. Venues across the Limestone Coast are being forced to operate with minimal staff forcing employees to work long hours to keep up with demand.

This is no exception for Mount Gambier’s Federal Hotel which has been significantly affected. Venue manager Amy Ayres-Bromley said the business has been constantly looking for staff. “Bar staff are particularly sparse at the moment with a lot of people staying in their positions at hotels because it is an uncertain time to leave your place of work,” she said.

“Before COVID we had never had an issue finding bar staff, the only issue was picking through the 4000 resumes we received but last week I put out an advertisement for bar staff and I have not had a single willing applicant whereas I would usually get 50 applications overnight.

“Now is a really good time for anyone who is looking to get out into the industry with a wide choice of businesses in Mount Gambier looking for staff for anyone who has an interest in keeping the doors of businesses open in the Limestone Coast.”

These extreme staff shortages are also being felt in Penola. The Prince of Wales Hotel Motel Owner Mark Millie has been looking for staff for two months. “The COVID situation has had a definite impact on the whole hospitality industry,” he said. “Of course, being in a small country town also means that if we are fortunate enough to find someone suitable, for most of them it is a second job.

“This means that as an owner I have to work more hours to run the hotel because in this industry people want upfront service and they want it now.”

The difficulty in finding staff is the worst Millicent business operator June Pilmore has experienced in over three decades in the hospitality industry. Ms Pilmore has tried employment agencies and advertising in a vain bid to secure staff for her busy George Street mixed business.

Together with her husband Mark, they have just clocked up three years of running Acky’s Deli in the town’s main thoroughfare. As it trades every day and is open for around 90 hours per week, it requires almost 20 full-time and part-time workers.

Currently there are the two owners, two full-time staff and 15 casuals. Due to an influx of interstate and intrastate visitors to Millicent between Christmas and New Year, Acky’s Deli experienced an 80% surge in turnover compared to the previous year.

Another hectic time was the Australia Day public holiday when a number of other Millicent venues were closed. The co-proprietor attributes the staff shortages to a cocktail of reasons. “Perhaps people do not want to work in a fast-paced environment,” Ms Pilmore said.

“It is not as though we only make a cup of coffee every half hour or so. “Here we are at 2pm on a Friday afternoon and our six current workers are flat out. “We do not make people work split shifts which is often the case in the hospitality industry. “Perhaps part-time work does not suit people. “We have used employment agencies but with mixed results.”

Ms Pilmore said the higher Jobseeker payments introduced by the Federal Government in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted on her business. “I believe it was a disincentive for people to work,” she said. “We see people who come to apply for a job but they are only ticking a box on their JobSeeker form.

“I agree with everything Beachport café owner Michael Corman said in his interview in The SE Voice about trying to find staff. “He also has job applicants who are just ticking boxes for their Jobseeker forms.”

Whenever there are staff absences at Acky’s Deli due to illness or bereavement leave, the gaps in the roster are invariably filled by the two owners. Ms Pilmore tries to have two days away from the shop each week with one dedicated to her grandchildren. However, such plans are often disrupted and the couple are on duty every day.

“It has not got to the stage of considering cutting back our opening hours,” she said. “We have customers on our doorstep at 5.30am each day waiting for us to open.”

Meanwhile, other Millicent retailers are currently seeking staff including another café and a supermarket.

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