Dire staff shortages affecting hairdressers and beauty salons have ignited calls from small business groups for the federal government to change the priority migration skilled occupation list.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday a significant easing of international travel rules, allowing fully vaccinated eligible visa holders to enter Australia without having to apply for a travel exemption from December 1.
International students, working holiday-makers, temporary work (skilled) visa holders, temporary skill shortage visa holders, and a range of other provisional visa holders will be allowed entry from next month.
But business groups including the Australian Hairdressing Council and the Australian Retailers Association have said the relaxing of border rules will do little to address a long-term critical worker shortage in the hairdressing and beauty industries that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
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Sandy Chong, chief executive of the Australian Hairdressing Council and owner of Suki salon in Newcastle, tells SmartCompany the industry is “on its knees” and desperately needs senior-level workers.
“The industry is on its knees trying to find staff and even though the government has been incredibly generous with their apprenticeship support, the issue is that no amount of apprentices will fill the skills gap,” Chong says.
Due to the shortage of workers, it’s not uncommon for hair salons to be more than 50% down on preferred staff levels, or for business owners to see clients on a full-time basis, reducing the time they have to complete administrative tasks.
Chong says while hairdressers have been on the National Skills Commission’s shortage list for about two decades, the profession is not included on the priority migration skilled occupation list — something she would like to change.
“Even having 2000 visa holders who could come into the country and help small businesses get back on their feet would make a difference,” Chong says.
The relaxation of travel restrictions on some visa holders comes as Australia slowly eases border restrictions for some foreign citizens.
From November 21, fully vaccinated Singaporean citizens have been able to enter the country without needing an exemption, ahead of Japanese and Korean citizens in December.
Foreigners entering Australia will need to provide proof of their vaccination status, and may be able to skip quarantine, depending on the state they arrive in.
Commenting on the changes to border rules, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back.
“It’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enabled us to do,” Morrison said. “It’ll mean a lot for the economies.”
Paul Zahra, chief executive at the Australian Retailers Association, said the change in restrictions was positive news for retailers who are struggling with a worker shortage in the lead up to Christmas.
“International students and skilled migrants are cohorts of workers that have been sorely missed throughout the pandemic and we desperately need them back to help fill this shortfall,” Zahra said.
Zahra, however, is also urging the federal government to address the fact that hairdressers and beauty therapists will continue to struggle to find workers in the longer term, despite the change in border rules.
“We are calling on the federal government to add hairdressers and beauty therapists to the priority migration skilled occupation list,” Zahra said.
“These businesses are facing long term workforce shortages and we urge the federal government to prioritise these roles for the future viability of the industry.”
There are currently 44 job types on the priority migration skilled occupation list, including engineers, pharmacists, nurses, accountants, programmers, social workers and chefs.
The list, which is based on advice from the National Skills Commission, allows people with employer-sponsored nomination and individual visa applications to have their visas fast-tracked.