Staff shortage threatens South West's hospitality industry

Margaret River restaurateur Sean Carter says a critical shortage of hospitality staff is threatening to close the doors on local businesses. Photo - Nicky Lefebvre
Margaret River restaurateur Sean Carter says a critical shortage of hospitality staff is threatening to close the doors on local businesses. Photo - Nicky Lefebvre

The Margaret River region's hospitality and tourism industry is on the brink of collapse, according to exhausted business owners unable to source staff to fill essential roles.

A number of business owners in the region have spoken to the Mail this week, fearful of having to close their doors due to the strain.

Kellie Tigchelaar, co-owner of The Sea Garden Cafe in Prevelly, said finding qualified staff had been difficult long before COVID-19.

A decision was made to sponsor a chef from France, an ideal candidate for the coastal cafe.

"The application was made in March just prior to COVID-19," said Ms Tigchelaar.

"We as a business had our application to become a sponsor approved, however to this date, the chef's application has still not been looked at.

"Discussion with her immigration agent revealed that visas relating to hospitality are not being processed at the moment."

The halt on the application leaves the owners $7000 out of pocket, and without a chef to fill the crucial role over one of the busiest winters the cafe has seen.

"We have had a winter that we never anticipated.

"Early August we entered winter hibernation hours, still 7 days a week but only dinner Friday and Saturday evening. This is predominately to do with lack of staff, in particular chefs."

While most patrons have been patient and understanding, Ms Tigchelaar has fears over the long term impact.

"We are so pleased with the support from the majority of patrons, we have experienced a lot more 'local love' who genuinely care about how we are fairing, along with those travelling WA who are quite patient if the wait times are longer than expected."

Kellie Tigchelaar, co-owner of The Sea Garden Cafe in Prevelly near Margaret River says her business is suffering due to an extreme lack of hospitality staff working in the region, and across the State. Photo - Anita Haywood

Kellie Tigchelaar, co-owner of The Sea Garden Cafe in Prevelly near Margaret River says her business is suffering due to an extreme lack of hospitality staff working in the region, and across the State. Photo - Anita Haywood

Restaurateur Sean Carter said the shortage of hospitality staff would soon start to close businesses.

"We have been advertising for weeks, and have had no applications," Mr Carter told the Mail.

"I have had people offer to work for cash payments, I've had chefs offer to come down from Perth but with a stipulation that they would be looking for other work along the way, which leaves me no security within the team.

"It's at the point where we can only serve so many people and cook so many dishes with the chefs we have in the kitchen, and at some stage we may have to close the doors if we can't find the staff.

"It becomes untenable to keep the business open if we can't serve enough people to pay the wages, the rent and the overheads."

Mr Carter owns restaurant El Toro, which rose from the ashes of the ex-Kingfisher restaurant after the COVID-19 shutdown forced the closure of the Indian eatery.

It becomes untenable to keep the business open if we can't serve enough people to pay the wages, the rent and the overheads.

Sean Carter, El Toro restaurant, Margaret River

He said the risk involved in opening a new restaurant was offset by the support he had received from local and visiting customers, but that the staff shortage was threatening his trading hours.

A State government spokesperson said their Work and Wander Out Yonder campaign aimed to encourage Western Australians to a range of job opportunities in destinations such as Margaret River, Busselton and Dunsborough.

"The website directs potential workers to a range of tourism and hospitality jobs in the South West, providing a simple avenue linking employers and prospective employees.

"With the Jobseeker program set to be wound back shortly, now is the time for young Western Australians looking for work to consider taking up a short or long-term job opportunity in one of the South West's key tourism destinations."

The spokesperson said the Federal government had a responsibility to allow international workers to extend their visas.

"The Federal Government must also recognise the important role international backpackers play in filling many of these positions, and extend visas of those already here to allow them to stay and continue working in our hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants.

"Anything further the Federal Government can do to complement the initiatives the State Government has already put in place will assist our hospitality and tourism businesses."

Member for Forrest Nola Marino said the country's economic revival would depend on Australians getting back to work.

"As restrictions continue to ease in large parts of the country, we are seeing more and more businesses look for workers.

"However, of the businesses struggling to employ more Australians, the most common response was a lack of applicants as the reason.

"This presents a real opportunity for those who have lost work to get back out there and put their hand up for a job. With more than one million Australians out of work, many would be grateful to have a job.

"Prior to COVID-19, I was in negotiations with a number of local councils and businesses around establishing a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) after local feedback on current shortages indicated there was an appetite for a migration program tailored to the unique needs of the South West.

"I look forward to restarting this process in the coming weeks as it is apparent that our local businesses are needing staff now more than ever."

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the McGowan government was ignoring the full extent of the issue.

"The shortage of a variety of skilled staff in the agricultural and hospitality industries is very concerning with many restaurants and wineries needing to reduce their operating hours due to the lack of available staff," Ms Mettam said.

"The McGowan government have not thought this initiative through and need to address the core problem which will only strengthen with interstate and international borders closed."

On the coast, Kellie Tigchelaar is hoping something changes soon.

"Honestly , I don't know the best way forward, I am fearful without being successful in obtaining new staff, we will have to have significantly shorter opening hours."