Casino does chips on meals due to crippling staff shortages

As Queenstown hospo staff shortages continue to bite, with venues routinely forced to close one or two days a week, one operator’s about to take even more drastic action.

From next week, SkyCity casino boss Jono Browne’s expecting he’ll have to shut his Wild Thyme restaurant and bar seven days a week.

That’s because he’s finding it all but impossible to attract new staff to replace those leaving.

‘‘We’ve got a pipeline that’s just fully dried up.’’

He’s had some overseas staff lined up for three to four months, under the accredited employer work visa scheme, but still can’t get them here due to the slowness of the immigration process, he says.

‘‘We thought Covid was going to be the challenge, but Covid was a walk in the park compared to what’s going on now.

‘‘This is tough, this is challenging, this is draining and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

‘‘As far as I’m concerned, summer is going to be a nightmare.’’

Browne says there might be some days where he’ll struggle even to keep his small gaming floor bar open.

He’d also hoped some approved working holiday visa staff might turn up.

‘‘We’ve had a couple, but if the government knows where they are, let us know.’’

Aside from immigration hassles, he says the lack of rental accommodation’s also a huge problem.

‘‘We’ve seconded about 10 [SkyCity] Auckland staff, several of whom have wanted to stay on, but they couldn’t get accommodation.’’

Brown believes a deterrent to staff getting rentals is there’s no late-night bus service to suburbs like Hanley’s Farm and Shotover Country that’d allow them to get home after late-night shifts with out having to take expensive cabs.

‘‘I think the service is incredibly inadequate and doesn’t take into account the whole operation of this town.

‘‘We’ve looked at options, because that could be a game- changer.’’

‘We need workers, ASAP’

Browne says the casino’s looked at leasing a couple of houses in town to house staff, ‘‘but there’s very little stock available’’.

He adds a third issue he faces is competing with some local wage rates ‘‘which in many ways are unrealistic’’.

‘‘I can understand why people are paying what they’re paying, but they’re not sustainable long-term.’’

He believes one good spinoff from the staffing crisis is venues employing 13-, 14-year-olds which, as a casino, he can’t do.

‘‘I love the fact kids are doing this, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

‘‘It has become necessary, and that’s wrong.’’

For all the talk of the need to attract high-value tourists, Browne believes we’re putting the cart before the horse.

‘‘If we want those high-value tourists, and 100% we do, we’ve got to make sure their experience is one of the best experiences they’re going to have.

‘‘But, at the moment, especially looking towards Christmas, you’ve got to start second-guessing and wondering how people are going to have that … five-star experience coming to Queenstown, because I just don’t see the people there to provide the service, and I think that’s a real concern.

‘‘So we just need workers, and we need them ASAP.’’

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