Business groups are urging the federal government to think outside the box to address the shortage of international workers and its impact on small business recovery and growth.
The hospitality industry has proposed the federal government replace the working holiday maker program, which has been suspended due to the pandemic, with a ‘COVID worker recovery visa’.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering, says the accommodation and food services industry is suffering from a 30% to 35% shortfall in staff due to the lack of international workers, including those on working holiday and international student visas.
“This has put us in the perfect storm of not having enough semi-skilled and skilled hospitality workers to fill the overwhelming job vacancies that are approaching 100,000,” Lambert says.
Lambert says along with public health restrictions, labour shortages are one of the biggest problems facing the industry.
“There’s no silver bullet, there needs to be a combination of solutions,” he says.
Restaurant and Catering has put forward a proposal to the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, requesting the working holiday maker visa be temporarily replaced with a COVID-19 recovery workforce visa.
The visa would allow international workers to enter Australia with little or no quarantine stay, if they had been vaccinated.
However, Lambert says this is only one part of the solution.
Skills shortages, a lack of accommodation in regional towns and little incentives for those living in cities to relocate are other factors contributing to the shortfall of workers.
The federal government is currently examining skills and labour shortages in Australia in the Joint Standing Committee on Migration.
In a submission to the committee, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) urged the federal government to make skilled migration more accessible so businesses can “access critical skills through Australia’s skilled migration program”.
ACCI chief executive, Jenny Lambert, said skills shortages have been exacerbated by the ongoing closure of Australia’s border, affecting sectors that have bounced back and those that are still recovering.
“It is a matter of survival for businesses in the accommodation, hospitality, cafes and restaurants sectors to access skilled migration,” Lambert said.
“But there is also a critical need for more professionals such as structural and civil engineers, surveyors and veterinarians in order for businesses to grow.”
With business groups pressuring the government to devise a strategy for bringing international workers into the country, the need for a fast vaccine rollout has become more pressing.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke acknowledged that migration will play a vital role in the country’s recovery from the pandemic. However, it remains a long term plan rather than an immediate one.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) last week, Hawke said skilled migration would be tailored to address skills shortages in critical sectors to assist economic recovery.
“The government sees the migration program as integral to how Australia will recover from COVID-19. Accessing the skills that we need, [to fill] shortages that we will have in our economy as it recovers will be a high priority for the migration program in coming years,” he said.