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'Minimal impact': Hilton Hotel boss Chris Ehmann says MSD's under-supply list update's a step in the right direction, but it's not going to make a massive difference to resort businesses

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Horror stories are starting to emerge in Queenstown as businesses continue to face staff shortages.

While the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) this week added more occupations to its ‘‘under-supply’’ list for the Queenstown Lakes — including jobs like executive chefs, restaurant supervisors, concierges and housekeepers — one hotel manager believes the impact will be ‘‘minimal’’.

Hilton Hotel boss Chris Ehmann says at a meeting of hotel GMs in Queenstown last week, at which Immigration New Zealand and MSD reps were present, some home truths were laid bare.

At present, the only hope for businesses to secure a foreign worker is to pay them $25.50 per hour — and often, the jobs they’re recruiting for are ‘‘low-skilled’’.

‘‘One of the general managers said an employee came to them and said, ‘can’t you just pay me $25.50 because I know other companies that are just doing this and the employee pays the employer back the difference’,’’ Ehmann says.

‘‘You’re not going to find a major corporation or company doing that, but your little mum and pop shops around the corner who are just desperate, they probably feel they have no choice.’’

Meantime, Muskets and Moonshine and Pub on Wharf boss Chris Buckley says staff ‘‘poaching’’ is starting again in the hospo industry, which is just creating another problem for already stretched businesses.

‘We can get through this’: Pub on Wharf and Muskets and Moonshine boss Chris Buckley says Queenstown business owners will “just be more bloody creative”

‘‘It’s frustrating.

‘‘This kind of thing’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

‘‘We know it’s going to be tough, it’ll be real hard to get through this busy season and we’ll just have to keep working on that right through until the borders open and hopefully when they open again we’ll get a little bit of an influx of people to help us do the job.’’

New Southland MP Joseph Mooney says Tuesday’s announcement means many of the thousands of people on employer-assisted work visas will be able to secure further work.

‘‘This will allow those businesses in Queenstown who have had no joy employing Kiwis, looking to retain migrant staff or recruit migrant staff, the ability to do so.

‘‘While it does not solve the labour shortage issue, it will provide some relief to many businesses.’’

Ehmann says it’s a ‘‘step in the right direction’’, but he would have liked to see ‘‘hospitality worker’’ added to the list, to broaden the scope.

While the additions to the list will take some pressure off MSD, the bigger issue, still to be dealt with, is visas at large.

Ehmann says along with pragmatism from Immigration New Zealand, he wants the government to provide ‘‘some visibility about where we’re going so that we can plan accordingly’’.

‘‘There are rumours about borders opening and bubbles opening … we’re running now at a reduced capacity, all of us.

‘‘If you look at any kind of reports coming out, Christmas is really quite soft — far softer than previous, the summer’s looking pretty soft for Queenstown, so we are managing our business to that size.

‘‘Right now, we’re almost working day-to-day with these visas and immigration and we can’t plan.’’

While Buckley’s sure there’s ‘‘a lot going on in the background we don’t see’’, he’s confident Queenstown businesses are resilient and creative enough to ride the storm out.

‘‘We’ve done the immigration thing so many times now, we’re always struggling, governments aren’t listening to us, and that’s why we’ll get through it.

‘‘We’ll just be more bloody creative and we’ll make it happen, again.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz