When Sandy Green, the owner of Green Refectory, a popular cafe in inner north Melbourne, advertised a job before the Covid pandemic, she could expect a flood of applicants.
Nowadays, as economies emerge from foreclosure, the roles seem to have turned.
“We’ll put an ad on our website or in our window, and where we could have had 60 applicants, we will have one or two applicants,” says Green. “It’s a radical change.
Similar stories are also unfolding in Sydney, a city that was a few weeks ahead of the Victorian capital to ease restrictions.
“We need four people – two on the floor and two in the kitchen,” said Alex Gomez, assistant manager at Canopy, a “rustic chic” restaurant next to Hyde Park in Sydney’s CBD. “It’s difficult and complicated to find people.
A few blocks away, Japanese restaurant Inase has just reopened for dinner after renovations fortuitously scheduled for lockdown. The staff would love to open up a team for lunch, but just can’t find the eight waiters and chefs they need.
Similar stories are likely to restrict the hospitality industry for months or more. One reason is that the industry relied heavily on students – especially international students in major cities – and other short-term visitors.
The sharp increase in demand for labor is spreading across many sectors and regions, and Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe this week predicted that the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 4% by 2023 against 5.2% last month.
This rate would be the lowest since the early 1970s, and a level at which the central bank has “little historical experience” in dealing with accompanying inflationary pressures if wages also rise.
The way the rush unfolds for staff has implications for interest rates, especially for mortgage holders who have taken on additional debt during the 25% rise in house prices in Australia. last year.
It could also frame the federal election, with the Morrison government wishing this week to speak of a “job boom.” Labor seems poised to question this reading, with leader Anthony Albanese saying: “We need more jobs, but we also need more secure jobs.”
Employers’ groups have called for the reopening of borders and an increase in the number of migrants.
On the latter point, the EY advisory group recently estimated that by 2024 Australia’s population is expected to be reduced by around 800,000 due to the impact of migration caused by Covid. Labor shortages are looming in a multitude of industries, from software to construction, due to the absence of these skilled immigrants.
“We are seeing an increasing number of companies reporting the shortage of skilled workers,” said Jo Masters, EY’s chief economist for Oceania.
Many economists, including Masters, expected the rebound in extended shutdowns after the arrival of the Delta strain to be more muted than the first wave of Covid. However, a plethora of data – from companies taking action to secure staff before lockdowns are lifted to increased credit card spending on gyms, travel and other services – indicates that the second boost may be the same. first.
“We saw what we saw last time around, which is that the economy is coming back into a really job-rich recovery,” Masters said.
Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is among those who want migration back. He estimates that Australia needs 200,000 skilled newcomers per year if “we are to realize our economic potential”.
“The Internet Jobs Index released by the National Skills Commission earlier this week recorded more than 250,000 job openings, the highest level in 13 years,” McKellar said.
“With the vacancy figures expected to reach 280,000 by the end of the year, the enormous pressure we see in the job market will prevent businesses from operating at full capacity. “
However, while the mood is improving, it is far from universal. Storefronts in Melbourne’s and Sydney’s central business districts belied the boom, with many “for rent” signs as the only display.
“If you look around the world, as the restrictions ease, you see pretty similar patterns, and that is, office occupancy goes back to around 75% but stagnates there. -low, ”Masters said. While workers wanted “the magic” of in-person collaboration, they also appreciated the convenience of working from home and wanted to keep some of it.
The drop in overall traffic corresponds to the experience of Elly Bruin, the manager of Patricia, a cafe in Melbourne’s CBD. While customer loyalty has boosted sales, having fewer competitors is also helpful.
“In fact, we are sort of prosperous,” she said. “But we noticed some [new] people who come to say that many are closed here, like new faces that we have never seen before. So I think they come here because they know we’re always open.
For Waan Bransgrove, operator of KnickKnack Cafe in central Sydney, the earnings barely hit their $ 5,000 monthly rental bill.
“We just feel helpless,” she said, as she was silent for the day one recent afternoon. “I have never felt so deflated in my life.”
“The CBD employee is a dinosaur,” her husband David said, adding that they plan to leave their store by the end of the year. “I am absolutely confident [business] will never come back.
For Brad Chan, managing director of the Banna Property Group and leading advocate for Sydney’s Chinatown, there is little question of a labor shortage as the outlook for many companies is dire.
“Either you’re in trouble, you’ve lost a lot of money, or you’ve lost everything,” said Chan, a third-generation owner in an area he described as “the opposite of dynamic”.
The absence of Chinese tourists and students only underscored a long-term neglect of the historic Haymarket region, he said. “Chinatown needs attention now – or rather, yesterday.”
The fact that hotel outlets can compete fiercely for staff, even though malls are riddled with store closings, portends underlying issues with the industry, according to a common refrain among those interviewed by Guardian Australia.
Gomez at Canopy, for example, worked in human relations in France before moving to Australia two and a half years ago. Once his English is up to date, he will happily return to this profession.
“It’s hard to have a personal life” with the long hours and the weekdays, he said. “It’s good when you’re a student.”
Kathryn Frances previously worked in bars in Ascot Vale, northwest Melbourne, but struggled to cover her living expenses even before the pandemic.
“Bartenders, supervisors, assistant managers – they need people to fill them all,” Frances said. “But at the same time for the bar staff, they can’t really promise regular, consistent hours, so it’s really hard for people who are trying to get a full-time salary.
“As the maximum I could really take home per week was around $ 500 to $ 600,” she said of her recent job in the industry. “There are a lot of jobs in bars, but the hours available are actually a joke. You may struggle to get more than 16 hours when you expect to work full time.“
Richard Denniss, chief economist at the Australia Institute, said the pandemic and its aftermath should prompt the public and policy makers to reconsider who is responsible for training employees and how they should be rewarded.
“You won’t see him in any [economic] manual, but it’s not a labor shortage, ”he said. “It’s a salary shortage.