Hospo employers, staff still at break point over worker shortage

The Opposition immigration spokesperson believes critical staff shortages in Queenstown’s hospo industry, which she blames on the government, are damaging the resort’s reputation.

Speaking to employers last week, National’s Erica Stanford says they’re so passionate about providing great service and a great experience, ‘‘they felt they were letting the country down by not being able to provide the level of service they wanted because they just didn’t have the

‘‘They’re under a huge amount of pressure, you could see it on their faces.

‘‘The problem is Queenstown is the jewel in our tourism crown, and the gateway to the country, and this is what tourists see, this is how they judge us.’’

In unprecedented times for the local industry, venues are routinely shutting one to two days week, cutting opening hours and restricting menu choices.

Many staff are throwing in the towel because of the extra pressure they’re under.

Citing Tourism Minister Stuart Nash pushing for high-value visitors, she asks: ‘‘Is this the kind of experience you want for them?’’

‘‘There’s a lot of [hotels] that are not [regularly] cleaning rooms, that’s not good for Queenstown, and the waiting in restaurants and bars, restaurants being closed, that’s not what New Zealand and Queenstown’s about.’’

Being at least 20 staff short, Rose is opening only 80% of his rooms, and at this stage, from about December 20 to the end of March, isn’t
booking more than 60% of his accommodation, despite predictions of a busy summer.

Rose applied on July 7 for 24 staff under the new accredited employer work visa scheme, but so far only four have been approved, ‘‘which is an incredibly long time to wait’’.

‘‘And during that time that’s put extra stress on the people who work here.’’

Minister: ‘We are supporting industries’

Info on chefs soon: Immigration Minister Michael Wood

Immigration Minister Michael Wood, who took over from Kris Faafoi in June and still hasn’t visited Queenstown in his new role, was asked by email if he also had concerns over staff shortages creating reputational damage.

While not directly responding, he says ‘‘as the world recovers from Covid, labour shortages continue to be a persistent, ongoing global symptom’’.

He also maintains the government’s listening to the concerns of various sectors ‘‘and working with them to take practical steps to unlock additional labour, as businesses work towards more productive and resilient ways of operating’’.

On the anomaly of foreign chefs not meeting NZ qualifications despite their experience, Wood’s press secretary says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s signalled he’ll have more to say in the next week.

Wood states: ‘‘We are supporting the tourism and hospitality industry by providing median wage exemptions for specified tourism and hospitality roles through sector agreements, temporarily doubling numbers under the working holiday scheme and extending visas to
retain labour already in [the] country.’’

Immigration NZ, he says, has approved accredited employers hiring migrants for more than 56,700 positions.

‘‘We are seeing a strong demand from migrant workers to work in NZ, as visible by the over 11,000 visa applications since the start of

Wood, however, says part of the government’s immigration ‘rebalance’ is focusing on building the skills NZ needs.

That’s opposed to ‘‘the old system which had a focus on large volumes of low-wage labour in some sectors’’.

That would ‘‘reduce the unacceptable levels of migrant exploitation the old settings facilitated’’.

He adds more than 30,437 working holiday scheme applications had been approved since March, ‘‘with arrivals picking up in the coming

Housing hassles

Cost of living concerns: The Rees’ Mark Rose

The Rees’ Mark Rose fears the cost of Queenstown housing, as much as anything, is deterring the hoped-for influx of foreign labour.

He’s got no doubt working holiday visa-holders will return to New Zealand, just as Immigration Minister Michael Wood’s predicting — especially from the United Kingdom, ‘‘because things are difficult there, and it’s coming into winter’’.

‘‘But, will those people work in hospitality or will they work in fruit picking or on farms?

‘‘The issue for them, especially in Queenstown, is it’s very expensive to live, so they either don’t come or they leave.

‘‘To set up a flat, get yourself ready to go for six months or four months, it’s not worth it.

‘‘It’s not just about wages, the Labour government tells us we should pay more, but my minimum wage is about $27 an hour, so it’s not about paying more.’’

It’s about having somewhere affordable to live, as well, Rose says — ‘‘we just don’t have those things in sync’’.

‘‘Over 50% of people who’ve turned down our offers of employment have done so because of the cost of rentals — they leave for places
like Dunedin, Napier, etc.’’

Some hotels are housing staff in empty rooms, Rose acknowledges.

‘‘We don’t do that sort of thing but, yes, if this was 20 years ago and we were building this hotel, we should have thought about staff accommodation.

‘‘But the cost of land here [now] is just astronomical.’’

Rose says his hotel used to have a six-bedroom staff house, ‘‘but there was a lot of hassle, so what we decided to do was to up their wages [instead]’’.

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‘We need to roll out welcome mat’

Lifestyle options a factor: NZSki boss Paul Anderson

NZski boss Paul Anderson believes the government needs to do a better job at being ‘‘more welcoming’’ to bring back the desperately-needed international workforce.

He points out there’s a world-wide worker shortage and there’s almost full employment of Kiwis now, so it’s up to the government to make it easier for migrant workers and working holiday-makers to come here, which will give the New Zealand economy the opportunity to get ahead, ‘‘rather than lagging [behind]’’ the rest of the world.

Anderson says, often, tourism jobs are more suited to a transient workforce in part because it’s a ‘‘lifestyle option’’.

‘‘But quite often, the immigration policy doesn’t recognise the lifestyle option that workers want to [have].

‘‘When I went overseas, you work in a bar, you work in a ski area, and you go, ‘cool, this’ll be great for four months and then I’m going to move on to my next thing’.

‘‘It’s not all about the wages, it’s sometimes about the [lifestyle] opportunities.’’

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