21/05/2008 - 22:00

Staff shortage hurts hospitality sector

21/05/2008 - 22:00

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It ranks poorly in terms of salary and is largely ignored in immigration quotas, yet the hospitality sector is viewed as critical in terms of helping Western Australia overcome its labour shortages.

It ranks poorly in terms of salary and is largely ignored in immigration quotas, yet the hospitality sector is viewed as critical in terms of helping Western Australia overcome its labour shortages.

Some might say it's a classic chicken and egg scenario - and it's not on the plate in front of the prospective diner.

The anecdotal evidence is that potential migrants who visit Perth are put off by the poor service and lack of amenities usually provided by the hospitality and tourism sector.

But in trying to cope with this rising demand, the sector itself can't find the staff it needs, especially because, except for chefs, the 457 visa system simply doesn't cater for the industry adequately.

According to the Small Business Development Corporation, 14,700 hospitality and tourism workers are needed to meet demand each year.

Mount Hawthorn-based Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu is one business that can attest to the shortage, especially as it wants to double its staff with the opening of a new venue in Subiaco.

"Recruitment issues are slowing us down in our growth...from a general point of view we have the potential to do better than we're doing, but we have to get the people and get staff ready to go the distance," Ha- Lu group manager Robert Bahemia said.

According to Fraser's executive chef Chris Taylor, the system has failed to recognise the issue.

The 457 visa can be used to recruit chefs from offshore, even though there are still chefs graduating from Australian Tafe colleges, but it doesn't recognise a waiter as a necessity, when that is where the biggest labour shortfall lies.

"There is a need for chefs but there is a bigger need for front-ofhouse service," Mr Taylor told WA Business News.

ISCAH Migration manager Steven O'Neil agrees there are flaws in the system and suggests the sponsorship process that a lot of small restaurants rely on needs looking at.

Small Business Development Corporation managing director Stephen Moir said the 457 visa was never intended for hospitality, apart from chefs, and agrees that makes immigration a difficult avenue to deliver labour needed in the sector.

Mr Moir said the minimum wage of $41,850 a year for 457 hospitality workers was also a big hurdle for the sector.

"A lot of the jobs on offer are underneath that level," he said.

As an alternative to the 457 visa, the SBDC and Tourism WA launched the 'Passport to Australia' program in January, aiming to bring students from US hospitality schools to perform their mandatory overseas work experience in WA.

Mr Moir also said that the sector's employers could source labour from the east coast through the Go West program launched in 2006.

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