Why Far North’s hunger for chefs is driving up wages

 

COVID stimulus payments and a dire skills shortage has inflated a hospitality bubble as resorts and restaurants try to lure good staff with cold cash.

Trinity Beach restaurant Lunico has been crying out for qualified chefs, bartenders and experienced front of house staff for months.

Owner Matt Turner said the gruelling hours and traditionally low pay rates had taken their toll on the number of locally-available chefs.

"Apprentices earn less than the dole," Mr Turner said.

"It is not very enticing."

The pre-COVID flow of international travellers has ceased for the time being and with it, a reliable supply of qualified hospitality staff.

"The food and beverage industries can't sustain operations without them," Mr Turner said.

He said pay rates had started to climb in Far Northern venues once the shortage of labour became apparent before the pandemic.

"Any restaurants in our area that are paying the award are not going to get anyone, or they are tyre kickers."

Mr Turner has advertised half a dozen jobs that "have gone begging."

"If we are getting an influx of tourists and they have a crappy experience because we don't have staff, it will be reflected on our region," he said.

Lunico owner Matt Turner at his Trinity Beach restaurant. Picture: Stewart McLean
Lunico owner Matt Turner at his Trinity Beach restaurant. Picture: Stewart McLean


Hospitality recruiter Edward Karras of Top End Consulting said he had been unable to fill numerous positions for regular clients.

"It has been horrendous, we don't have enough people," Mr Karras said.

He said need for staff had been exacerbated by those receiving stimulus payments not feeling the need for work.

"I have a lot of shifts going begging because people don't want to work," Mr Karras said.
"All those people who worked solidly through the pandemic, my loyalty will be to them.

While chefs in the Far North are high in demand, a local recruiter says he’s less inclined to offer positions to those who “sat on JobKeeper.” Picture: ISTOCK.
While chefs in the Far North are high in demand, a local recruiter says he’s less inclined to offer positions to those who “sat on JobKeeper.” Picture: ISTOCK.

"Those people who sat on Jobkeeper, I'll be less inclined to offer work in the future."

To make matters worse, southern resorts had been poaching staff from the Far North with cash incentives.

"I am having to proactively identify potential candidates and lure them away from their work," he said.

While chefs and wait staff are enjoying the high demand, other industries are suffering.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said the adventure and backpacker industries had not been saved by domestic travel.

"Businesses want to keep their best staff and we are calling on all levels of government to work together to support international education, to support the internationally reliant businesses that can't as easily transition into the domestic growth," he said.

Originally published as Why Far North's hunger for chefs is driving up wages


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