The hospitality industry is furious after chefs and cooks were left off the Federal Government’s updated migration eligibility list, even though the market continues to suffer a crippling skills shortage that’s forcing businesses to close.
The culinary snub comes despite the fact food-related businesses are performing better this year – yesterday’s forecast by Access Economics pegged food as growing faster than most sectors.
But Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive John Hart told SmartCompany this morning that although turnover is growing; there simply aren’t enough staff to take advantage of the uptick in sales.
“The reality of this list is that it doesn’t have anything to do with need. It’s not about whether there’s a skills shortage, it’s about whether an occupation is listed as being a priority or not,” Hart says.
“What comes into that is length of the job, importance of qualifications, and so on, but nothing that actually speaks to whether we’re in the middle of a skills shortage or not.”
The occupations on the list are determined not by the Federal Government, but by the independent body Skills Australia. The Restaurant and Catering Association put its case to Skills Australia but was unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the industry was still able to bring workers to Australia through the 457 visa program. The spokesman hit back at criticism of the government.
“Any suggestion this government is not committed to skilled migration is laughable and ignores the facts,” he said.
“The government is currently considering submissions on the new template labour agreement to help the tourism and hospitality sectors attract skilled overseas workers, as part of a thorough consultation and decision-making process for a complex policy area.”
But RCA chief Hart says the fact remained that there are still thousands of vacant positions.
“If you take this in conjunction with the fact we’ve gotten nowhere with labour agreements, we’re stuck in this situation.
“You wouldn’t have thought in this economic environment we would be constrained by migration policy.”
This is all despite the fact turnover in hospitality has increased. As Hart points out, restaurant spending rose by more than 12% in the 12 months to April and, in New South Wales, spending is up by 30% over the past year.
But Hart says last year was a poor one for the industry, and many businesses are closing down parts of their business because they’re understaffed.
“Businesses are just not fully staffing everything, so that means they’re either closed during certain days of the week, or they’re shutting down parts of the business they can’t staff.”
“All this does is dampen the industry, and I think it’s going to get worse.”