With cash and a travel bonus, Australia woos people who want to work

From tropical island resorts to Outback whiskey makers to mountain ski fields to inner city coffee shops, Australian businesses are struggling to recruit the staff they need to service their cashed up customers.

Australians each year spend about A$20 billion ($15.5 billion) more abroad than international tourists do Down Under — money that’s now being spent locally as the border remains shut to keep out Covid-19. Also locked out are the around 15% of the labor supply in hospitality and food trades that are usually drawn from overseas workers.

“We are offering above-award wages,” said Kate O’Callaghan, chief executive officer of the Whitton Malt House, whiskey distillery in western New South Wales, explaining recruiting efforts. “We’re always advertising. We’re sort of desperate on social media because we’re always looking for people who want to work.”

Such troubles would be music to the ears of Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who is trying to drive down unemployment to trigger pay gains across the economy. He has struggled to meet the RBA’s 2-3% inflation target since taking the helm in 2016 and now says the goal is unlikely to be achieved until 2024 “at the earliest.”

Gareth Aird, head of Australian Economics at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, reckons the governor might be a little too pessimistic.

“If you’re trying to achieve higher wages and higher inflation, what you need is things like capacity utilization at elevated levels, you need lots of skills shortages so that you’ve got a better chance of wages coming through,” he said. “Everything looks like it’s moving in the right direction on that front.”

A diminished pool of skilled labor — from baristas to waiters to chefs — means businesses will need to start bidding higher to secure employees. Yet, there will always be lags between anecdotes of higher wages and the bulk of the work force actually receiving them.

‘Work in Paradise’

After bearing the brunt of last year’s lockdowns, the Australian hospitality industry is now ground zero for labor shortfalls. In Queensland state, the government is offering cash and a travel bonus to encourage potential workers to move to tourism hotspots like the Whitsunday Islands and Cairns, a popular departure point to the Great Barrier Reef.

“You could be eligible for a A$1,500 incentive and a A$250 travel bonus to get you to paradise!” the government says on its website promoting the the ‘work in paradise’ program. “There are thousands of jobs that need to be filled in Queensland’s most beautiful destinations.”

It’s not just hospitality, either. In resource-rich Western Australia, gold miner St. Barbara has struggled to fill critical roles and mining services company Mineral Resources can’t secure enough truck drivers. Meantime, foreign construction companies that have won contracts in Australia say they’re struggling to bring in skilled labor to complete the jobs.

It’s a similar scene on the mountain slopes of Victoria, where professionals traditionally follow winter around the world.

“Mt Buller is certainly experiencing challenges this season with the ski and snowboard school,” said Rhylla Morgan, a spokeswoman for the resort. “Many of the highly experienced instructors and coaches who work professionally here and abroad following winter are unable to travel to work with us this season.”

Aird says that CBA’s profile for inflation and wages “is running ahead of what the RBA is saying,” adding that “the forward-looking indicators of labor demand are as strong as we’ve seen them in a long, long time.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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