The ‘downward spiral’ of the industry will remain until wages and conditions change

HOSPITALITY WORKERS HAVE said the industry needs a serious shake-up if it is to address the current hiring crisis, as many have decided to leave the sector altogether in search of better-paying jobs with more manageable hours.

There are tens of thousands of vacancies in bars, hotels and restaurants across the country. Employers have said it is getting harder to hire new staff and have warned they will face a serious crisis over the summer if the government does not extend visa permits to allow students to stay in the country beyond the end of May.

Research has shown that a significant proportion of staff did not return to their employers after Covid-19 restrictions on the sector were lifted, with many choosing a career outside of hospitality.

Over the weekend, Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI), questioned why 150,000 people are unemployed in Ireland during a staffing crisis, not just in hospitality but in other sectors of the economy.

He said it was “time for a real conversation about welfare levels/unemployment benefits in Ireland”.

The newspaper sought the views of a number of people currently or formerly employed in the industry on the current staffing crisis.

A former bar supervisor told us that after the pandemic he “just realized there was more to life than working every weekend, every holiday and every Christmas.” She has left the hospitality industry entirely.

“I’m 100% happier, I don’t have much more money but I’m not as tired as I used to be and I don’t need a whole Monday to recover after a busy weekend,” he said.

When asked what he thought discouraged people from taking the jobs currently available in the industry, he said it was a combination of factors including “the conditions, the long hours, dealing with the public, dealing with aggressive people almost newspaper”.

“More money could have helped [keep me in the sector] and better family hours, but unfortunately that is never possible,” he said. “I had to laugh at the new radio ad for hiring hospitality staff – it almost sounded too good to be true.”

employment levels

Dr. Alicja Bobek, a postdoctoral researcher at TU Dublin, has done extensive research on the experience of hospitality workers, including during the boom, bust, and pre-pandemic recovery period.

She said that while attempts have been made to address certain issues, such as a ban on zero-hour contracts, pay levels remain a major barrier.

Dr. Bobek said there are some challenges with these types of jobs that will be difficult to improve on due to the nature of the work, such as the hours of work, the physical labor involved and difficult customer interactions.

A bartender she spoke to for the 2017 investigation told her they had walked 30,000 steps in one shift, while room service workers in hotels spoke of how physically demanding their job was and how the level of heavy work they had to do.

“If you look at emotional labor, front line staff deal with customers all the time, people are demanding and one worker said that everything bad at work was because of the customer, the abuse was unbelievable,” he said.

“During the pandemic you can only imagine how difficult it was trying to enforce things like masks, it must have been horrible. That kind of emotional labor and physical demands are not recognized in the pay they receive.

Instead of giving people higher wages, the work has been further intensified for people. And time is not measured by the clock but by the task, so if you work in a hotel and you were doing five rooms in one hour, they might decide to do those seven rooms in one hour. The rooms have to be made up, and done well, so that if he’s not finished, he’ll be working during his lunch break.

Like the bar manager you talked to The newspapermany other workers may have taken the time they were out of work during the pandemic to consider their career prospects and work-life balance, he said.

Research by Fáilte Ireland identified as many as 40,000 vacancies in the sector, although it has been suggested that this estimate may be “exaggerated”.

The research found that 42% of tourism and hospitality workers did not return to their employers before the pandemic. Nearly a third of workers (33,500 people) in the industry found work in a new sector.

“If you look at employment levels, they are high, so these workers are not unemployed, they have moved on,” Dr. Bobek said.

According to the latest statistics from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the unemployment rate stood at 4.8% in April this year, compared to an unemployment rate of 5.4% in April 2019. The The number of people employed at the end of 2021 stood at 2,506,000, according to the CSO, compared to 2,357,300 in the last quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic.

Dr. Bobek noted an income gap between workers in the accommodation and food sector of €397 a week at the end of 2021, compared to weekly wages in the wholesale and retail trade sector (€654 a week). ) that many of these employees would have transferable skills for.

He said that while unsociable hours are an inevitable factor in hospitality, workers in other sectors who work nights and weekends are compensated with higher wages and this is not something that is taken into account in many hospitality roles.

cook shortage

Research from Fáilte Ireland found that employers found it difficult to recruit culinary staff, with 88% of those who need them saying they had significant difficulty recruiting.

A chef who spoke with The newspaper He said he thinks the perception of these jobs is keeping new talent out.

“I think part of it is because chefs are seen as unskilled work outside of people in the industry, hospitality is often referred to as unskilled work,” he said.

“TV shows have a negative impact to some extent, we have young people going to college who have never been in a professional kitchen before thinking everything is glamorous and when they actually walk into a kitchen they don’t last because it’s hard and demanding. job, it doesn’t look like an attractive career.”

She runs the kitchen at a hotel and said maintaining a life outside of work can be challenging: She was only able to see her young son for half an hour each day for four days last week.

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The chef also said that with the cost of living and a shortage of affordable accommodation, it has become more difficult for those in the industry to earn enough money to support their families.

“When I started working in hospitality 25 years ago, a chef, waiter or bartender could get a mortgage; this has not been the case in recent years as wages do not meet the criteria for a mortgage in Ireland,” he said.

Pay is an important factor, he said, as the job is stressful and physically demanding, but some in the industry are expected to work 10 to 20 hours a week for free.

“I don’t allow chefs [in my kitchen] being on wages, so they get paid for every hour they work, I’ve seen too many places put people on wages and work them to the bone, they usually do about 46 to 48 hours a week,” he said.

“I think the industry has been in a downward spiral for many years, business people got into the industry and it was always a race to the bottom, cheap labor etc.

“Unfortunately, to increase wages, the automatic thing is to increase prices, which would make the use of services unaffordable for people, so I think other areas should be considered, such as insurance, energy costs and taxes. raise money to improve wages.”

Mary Farrell, executive chef at Morton’s supermarket, has no intention of leaving the industry after 35 years, but she thinks it’s time for a change.

“Where I work there is a very good environment, there is a lot of flexibility, so I am lucky,” he said. The newspaper.

“They treat me well, I work during the day, I usually have weekends off in addition to the weekend off and we have a good shift system, so while people work on weekends. They also have some free and there is a recognition that those with families have to be accommodated.”

“If something happened at my job now and I was out of a job, I wouldn’t go back to working nights in a kitchen, I just couldn’t do it now and I consider myself very capable, I just wouldn’t do it. be able to sacrifice my freedom for that now.”

She said many workers during the pandemic may have realized that while working unsociable hours they were “missing out on other important things.”

Farrell said that while a higher pay rate is an obvious solution, the problem isn’t entirely pay related.

“It has always been seen as a low-paid, unskilled job, which is ironic, and we need to start thinking seriously about pay and conditions so that it looks like a proper profession and everyone is respected and that you can have a good short in a race. if you’re good at it,” he said.

“There is a reluctance to talk about the negative aspects of the industry; anyway, everyone knows what they are, so let’s talk about them and start addressing them in a serious way.”

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