Hospo’s hell

Staff search: Smiths Craft Beer House general manager Chris Dickson

Queenstown’s hospo industry is at “crisis point” due to visa delays, cut-throat competition, and increasing pressure on staff.

One long-time bar owner’s had to close her business twice in a week to give staff a break, the first time in 21 years she’s had to do it.

Another’s looking offshore, starting international recruit-ment in a bid to beat crippling staff shortages in the resort.

Immigration NZ acknowledges there are more visas needing to be processed, but says that’s business as usual for this time of year.

It also says it’s working to speed up processing times.

Surreal owner Melissa Stadler, who’s had to close her bar for two days recently due to staff shortages, tells Mountain SceneĀ after two decades in the business, she’s starting to wonder if it’s worth the hassle.

“It’s the hardest it’s ever been,” she says.

“It’s actually at crisis point.”

She shut the Rees Street bar for the past two Mondays to give staff a break.

“My chef’s been working 80 hours a week. I have to look after them.”

Visa delays have been causing havoc for employers, with some applications taking more than six months to process, she says.

“It’s a continual battle.”

Smiths Craft Beer House boss Chris Dickson agrees, calling the situation “terrible”.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it in the nine years I’ve been here,” he says.

Living costs are a big part of the problem, as is immigration. He says some of his staff have hired an immigration lawyer to help speed up the visa process.

Dickson’s using the same lawyer to start offshore recruitment.

He’s also spent thousands of dollars on recruitment in the past few weeks.

Another factor is competition between businesses, with rampant poaching of staff, he says.

“There’s no loyalty, it’s really tough.”

That’s driving up wages.

“Someone who was a pot-washer yesterday’s getting paid like a sous chef, it’s ridiculous.”

He’s keen for businesses to get together and talk to each other to tackle the problem.

Chris Buckley, director of Pub on Wharf and Muskets and Moonshine, says it’s hard to get people who’ve got any experience.

“We have to be more adaptable, and train people on the job,” he says.

“All costs are rising, now we have to put more pressure on the staff we’ve got to maintain levels of service.”

He’s currently looking to hire four or five full-time staff across the two businesses, with an eye to taking on another five for the summer season.

As of yesterday, there were 16 Queenstown hospitality businesses advertising for staff on recruitment website Seek. Retail and other sectors are also under pressure.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce board chairman Craig Douglas says it’s aware of the issue.

Immigration Minister Iain Less-Galloway spoke to Chamber members last month, and Douglas says he raised the idea of different regions being treated differently when it came to visas.

That’d be a welcome development, but Douglas says there’s not been any movement on that yet.

Immigration NZ manager Michael Carley says the number of labour-market tested visa approvals increased by 18 per cent between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

“Queenstown visa applications continue to be prioritised, with these applications generally being allocated for processing within three weeks and ‘decision-ready’ applications usually decided within a further 1-2 days.

“Applications which are not decision-ready tend to take longer, due to the fact that additional information needs to be requested before these can be finalised.”

For the Queenstown area, around 40 per cent of the applications being received currently are considered to be complete and decision-ready.

Immigration NZ’s currently working to improve work visa processing timeframes, he says.