Staffing shortage sparks tough times for businesses

Member for Warren Blackwood Terry Redman says it is shortsighted of workers to not grab any opportunity to secure employment.
Member for Warren Blackwood Terry Redman says it is shortsighted of workers to not grab any opportunity to secure employment.

Business owners in the South West are experiencing a sharp downturn in available staff due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with some forced to work long hours or close their doors to cope.

One regional cafe operator said the pandemic had reduced the pool of candidates for work, despite tourists flocking to the region.

"We are absolutely exhausted, to the point where we are looking at days to close just so we can get some rest and see the kids," he told the Mail.

"It's also placed a strain on our existing employees who are taking on more shifts than they would usually alongside study or other work, just to help keep things running."

The business owner, who did not wish to be named, said he had received some interest from locals but some had demanded higher wages than prior to the shutdown.

"I'm very supportive of the payments put in place by the government and I appreciate that without them, our town might not be travelling as well as it is.

"Many people have a bit more money than they did before, and we are grateful for that money being spent in the South West. I am concerned whether people will want to come back to work as long as they're receiving it."

Member for Warren Blackwood, Terry Redman MLA said the worker shortage was having an impact across industries.

"With increased visitors to our region it is disappointing that due to lack of staff, cafes and restaurants cannot take advantage of the extra trade and open every day," he said.

"At a time when our unemployment rate is high, it seems short-sighted of people to not grab every work opportunity available."

Mr Redman said there was a need to investigate bringing interstate workers in to WA.

If we can accommodate people coming into WA for AFL football games and jobs in the mining sector, then we should be able to bring people into WA to fill gaps, particularly for seasonal work in the agricultural sector.

Terry Redman

"If we can accommodate people coming into WA for AFL football games and jobs in the mining sector, then we should be able to bring people into WA to fill gaps, particularly for seasonal work in the agricultural sector," he said.

"Many horticultural businesses rely on overseas workers for picking and pruning, and without this expertise crops will go to waste.

"In Parliament last week, the Nationals asked the Government to consider a campaign to educate and offer ways in which people can work regionally, including training, worker accommodation and promoting how young people can travel around the state following seasonal work.

"We also asked the Government to investigate possibilities of bringing people into WA under strict quarantine conditions.

"Our key focus is keeping people safe, but we also need to manage the risk and develop ways of keeping our local businesses operating.

One Nation WA leader Colin Tincknell said thousands of WA farmers were facing financial devastation in coming months without an influx of workers to regional areas.

Mr Tincknell said Premier Mark McGowan's responses during Parliamentary question time last week when asked about attracting workers to regional areas, reinforced what most farmers already felt was the current Government's attitude to the hardships they are facing.

"This Government's only effort has been to ask the unemployed in metropolitan areas to sign up for work in regional areas. It just doesn't work like that, you can't pluck someone out of the city and get them to shear your sheep or operate your harvesting equipment." he said.

"It is insulting to those farmers who are reaching desperation when the Premier makes a joke about taking workers to the regions in a minibus and cooking for them."

As well as affecting Margaret River wine and tourism, the shortage of workers has been felt in the north-west where businesses have attempted to source chefs, bakers and other skilled employees from Queensland and the Northern Territory.

"Being remote and needing a seasonal, casual workforce adds another layer of complexity with a limited pool of locals to draw from, and backpackers being the 'go to' for many North West businesses to allow them to trade," said Vince Catania, Nationals Member for North West Central.

"As backpacker numbers dwindle quickly and locals reluctant to move for short to medium term casual roles, small businesses, including tourism, agricultural, horticulture and fishing are all faced with an immediate crisis and a very bleak outlook".

"Staff and accommodation shortages has reached a critical point for businesses across regions, with operators working very long days, physically exhausted and mentally fatigued, unable to meet demand and affecting their operations, income and health and well-being," he said.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the issue was widespread in the South West.

"One of the restaurants in my electorate, Wills Domain, is typical of many businesses across the broader Margaret River region that is experiencing a shortage of workers, including wait staff, chefs and front-of-house people," she said.

"The local cleaning company cannot get staff to work. This is at a time when the unemployment rate in WA is the second worst in the nation at 8.3 per cent, well above the national average."

Member for Bunbury Don Punch MLA said the shortage was "not new" and had been an issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am not taking away one iota from the challenges faced by the agricultural sector that has relied on transient seasonal labour over many years. However, we will not have that in the next six months.

"I heard quite clearly some of the contributions made by other members outside this place who called for a quick fix by bringing in people from New Zealand or Vanuatu and putting a travel bubble in place.

"What does a travel bubble mean? It means a commitment to managing risks, and the stakes are incredibly high for not only one sector, but right across our community."