Border closures have not stopped tourists flooding into Western Australia’s regions but some businesses are struggling to meet demand as staff are locked-out of the state.

Melissa Finlay runs a restaurant in Kalbarri on WA’s Coral Coast, which is known for warm weather, beautiful beaches and offering a window into the outback.

“We’ve been fully booked since June, all the accommodation is fully booked in town as well, it is absolutely awesome to see so many West Australians holidaying within WA,” she said.

Melissa Finlay runs a restaurant in Kalbarri on WA’s Coral Coast.

Melissa Finlay runs a restaurant in Kalbarri on WA’s Coral Coast.

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But despite the idyllic location, Ms Finlay said she cannot find any willing workers.

“At the moment we are looking for a couple of chefs, a couple of cooks, kitchen hands, front of house, wait staff, cleaners, pretty much all of the above,” she said.

“We have been looking for 12 weeks now… and we just haven’t had any applications.”

The lack of workers means Ms Finlay cannot capitalise on the booming local tourism industry as she does not have the staff to open seven days a week.

In fact, she can only manage 50 per cent of the trade she would usually do during peak season.

“With the numbers in town at the moment we would love to be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner,” she said.

“We’re restricted to five nights a week and only one day for lunch… we are turning away a lot of people because we can’t fit them in.”

The unemployment rate is sitting at 8.3 percent in Western Australia, which is the second highest in the country.

Job advertisement data provided by employment agency Seek shows demand for workers in regional areas is back to pre-pandemic levels in WA.

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This story resonates with Dannielle Hart, who runs an accommodation service and brewery in Broome.

She is currently looking for two dozen workers to fill positions usually taken by backpackers and Pacific workers.

“We only have a short season here in Broome and we really need to capitalise on what we can at the moment,” said Ms Hart.

A lack of regional workers is a trend throughout Australia as bush communities are recovering faster from the COVID-19 induced downturn than metro centres.

Job advertisement data provided by employment agency Seek shows demand for workers in regional areas is back to pre-pandemic levels in all states and territories except for Victoria.

But, in metro areas job ads are down 34 percent since the start of the pandemic.

In metro areas, job ads are down 34 percent since the start of the pandemic.

In metro areas, job ads are down 34 percent since the start of the pandemic.

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“The one biggest driver is professional services, this makes up a very big percentage of the jobs in metro areas,” said Seek’s Stephen Tuffley.

“By professional services, we are looking at things like lawyers, accountants, IT, marketing, HR, those sorts of roles have really taken a hit in metro areas, where as in regional areas they have taken a hit, but there is a much lower percentage of those sort of jobs.”

Roadblocks to a tree change

The unemployment rate is sitting at 8.3 percent in Western Australia, which is the second highest in the country.

To encourage job seekers to head out into the regions the state government recently launched the Work and Wander campaign.

Business groups are unsure the campaign will replace the workforce usually sourced from seasonal workers, especially with the current welfare payments.

Aaron Morey is the chief economist for the CCIWA.

Aaron Morey is the chief economist for the CCIWA.

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“Clearly there is a disincentive for some people on those significant income support payments to give up those payments to give up those payments and take up temporary employment in the regions,” said Aaron Morey from the WA’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“It is really important that both levels of government continue to monitor their policy settings to make sure there are strong incentives for people to take up those great employment opportunities in the regions.”

For Dannielle Hart in Broome, there is nowhere she would rather be than in regional Australia. 

“It’s a great place to work, the weather is beautiful, it is really a fun town to be in,” she said

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