Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Restaurants and bars desperate for staff on eve of reopening day

The hospitality industry is gearing up to reopen from Friday under the new traffic light system, with some anticipating a busy weekend.

But restaurateurs are also calling on the Government to ease the border restrictions as they are “desperately” struggling to find skilled workers for their businesses.

Leo Molloy, owner of Headquarters at Auckland’s Viaduct Basin, said he was preparing to reopen his bar and grill from midnight tonight, to fully vaccinated customers.

He said he was expecting a busy weekend for his 750-seat restaurant, which will only host about 300 people to ensure he was complying with the new traffic light system rules.

Molloy said since the first lockdown on March 25 last year, there hasn’t been a single outbreak of a Covid-19 cluster started at a hospitality venue, unlike numerous churches.

“We should never be in a red light situation tomorrow, we should be in amber or green,” he argues.

“The hospitality sector has been wiped into oblivion, [the Government] has flogged the dead horse beyond being a dead horse, it’s just a carcass now.

“It is bizarre we’ve been treated this way, we’ve been treated like children,” Molloy said.

He said his security will be working with police and an alcohol harm team to ensure the traffic light system isn’t being breached during the busy reopening.

“We are also desperately short in staff, normally we have 80 staff but now we only have 61,” he said.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said 60 per cent of its members reported their businesses were not currently fully staffed.

“On average they are understaffed by just over 20 per cent. Ninety-two per cent of members recruiting for senior roles said they are finding it difficult.

“Our industry has been reliant on an overseas workforce that is now unavailable to us.

“These roles range from wait staff roles often filled by those on working holiday visas and students through to skilled roles such as chefs, Maitre’d’s and restaurant managers.

“The hospitality industry has until now, been in sustained growth. But for some time, we have been desperately lacking the skilled workforce we have needed to support our growth.”

The Restaurant Association future roadmap, released in October, identified a need to invest in hospitality apprenticeships and further training fit for purpose while also refining its immigration policy needs, Bidois said.

While the hospitality industry is among the hardest hit from Covid lockdowns, the situation could be worse – analysis shows moving hard and early in response to the mid-August Delta outbreak was pivotal in minimising the large-scale outbreak in the country.

The move to quickly impose level 4 lockdown in Auckland didn’t manage to extinguish Delta, but it helped the city to avoid the fates of Melbourne and Sydney where outbreaks grew exponentially and killed hundreds, Herald senior reporter Derek Cheng wrote in an analysis piece this morning.

“The ongoing lockdown in Auckland, now well past 100 days, has bought enough time for vaccination coverage to push the growth in daily case numbers back down – though this will likely rise again once the lockdown lifts from Friday,” he noted.

Unhealthy unemployment

Massey University professor of Economics and Finance Faruk Balli said even though the unemployment rate is the lowest it has ever been in the last 15 years, this low number isn’t healthy in the long run.

Due to shut borders and labour shortages in many industries including hospitality, employers are forced to hire staff who aren’t the right fit for the job, he said.

“And they are paying more for the mismatch, which will decrease the productivity of the firm,” he said.

Balli agreed for restaurant owners that to mitigate the problem the Government need to ease the immigration policy.

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