By JULIUS DENNIS
After a hectic Easter period, the shortage of skilled labour continues to wreak havoc in tourism operations across Central Australia and has some within the industry asking where the help is going to come from.
Put simply by one source, if this were 500 jobs in the Central Australian mining sector, the government would be falling over themselves to lend a helping hand to fill them.
But this is far more than a 500 job hole in the job market. As reported last week by the News there are more than 7000 job vacancies in the Northern Territory hospitality sector.
At the Ayers Rock Resort, CEO Mathew Cameron Smith, the sole spokesperson for Central Australia’s largest tourism operator, has been unavailable to answer questions regarding staffing shortages.
Anecdotal chats with staff shows fractures in the staffing levels: One security guard was finishing up his shift, only to head to the kitchen to help out.
Walkers at Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).
At bars, flustered managers served customers. This all with only three of the five hotels and restaurants operating.
One bar manager said that while they too have at times been left without the required staffing, they have seen an uptick in job applications since the end of JobKeeper at the end of March.
Still, Mr Cameron Smith says that 150 staff are needed for the resort to reopen the newly refurbished Desert Gardens hotel.
After their survey into staffing shortages, with no direct answer to where the workers needed for these, Hospitality NT has launched another survey, this one to assess the economic damage.
The results to that survey should be known next week.
CEO Alex Bruce says the situation is worse in rural and remote parts of the Territory.
Tourism and Hospitality Minister Natasha Fyles says the government is “investigating further incentives and initiatives and we are working with industry and local businesses to find practical ways to assist and support them”.
Minister Fyles also points to preexisting measures such as JobTrainer and user choice funding which provides funding for job training services, but does not offer any new measures.
While the government continues to spruce their support of the industry, it remains unclear whether they say this shortages coming at all.
A media release from the March 29 boasted of a multitude of ways to bring in more tourists, but no target to bring in workers to service them.
Some within the industry think that perhaps the government never believed their campaigns would work to such a great extent.
While inaction persists, owners and managers cannot benefit of what should be a good thing: A much needed surge of interstate visitors.
At the Ross River Resort (pictured), the popular campground 83 kilometres east of Alice Springs, Lee Donal is struggling to staff the restaurant and bar ahead of next weekend’s Wide Open Spaces music festival next week.
The festival brings around 2000 people to the resort and is usually a great financial start to the season.
This year, the venue will be pared back: “The reality is that this year that will be severely limited, which of course, reduces our income. Our first aim is to look after the festival goers.”
As for future festivals at the resort, such as Blacken, a heavy metal festival planned for August, Ms Donald is unsure.
“You know we can’t plan business ahead we can’t plan bookings ahead because I can’t be sure that I’m going to have staff.”
If Ms Donald is relying on the return of backpackers, Ronald Sterry, the owner of the popular Alice Springs accommodation for Working Holiday Makers, Ronnie’s Bush House, has bad news: “They’re not coming, they haven’t come since the virus.”
In normal circumstances, the Bush House would be full of travellers working their way around Australia, but since these workers were excluded from JobKeeper payments there have been nearly 100,000 of them leaving the country.
Now the Bush House is a little over half full, and the clientele has changed. What was once a place for working holidaymakers is now primarily filled with migrants trying to find their feet in Alice Springs.
Mr Sterry says that for him the saddest part about this situation is the number of unemployed people in Alice Springs who cannot or will not fill these roles.
He says that a combination of “sit-down money” and a reliance on a foreign workforce which was left unsupported when push came to shove, has left Alice Springs and Central Australia in the situation it finds itself in today.
This sentiment of lack of governmental support for the tourism industry has also been seen in the comments section of this paper.
IMAGE AT TOP: The government’s Tourism NT, under a scheme worth $16.2m, is offering vouchers worth up to $200 o a $1 for $1 basis, providing “an incentive to support our struggling tourism industry and to experience our great Territory lifestyle”. The government appears to be just realising that money would be better spent on attracting staff – 7000 are estimated to be needed – not tourists, for the moment.
This memo from the NT Government was released today at 4.42pm by Minister for Jobs and Training, Paul Kirby. That is three hours and eight minutes after we published this report and eight days after we first raised these issues.
Mr Kirby says in his release: “Today, the Territory Government has announced a $2m Critical Worker Support Package aimed at attracting hospitality and tourism workers to the Territory to alleviate current pressures around a worker shortfall.
“The Territory Government’s support package will immediately boost skills and job opportunities for Territorians, and attract workers to the Territory through a variety of strategic incentives and initiatives including travel and accommodation reimbursements, and upskilling opportunities.
“We have listened to local industry and we know they’re struggling to find workers – that’s why the Territory Labor Government is stepping up to assist our hospitality and tourism operators to find staff now.”