Study shows hospitality industry needs to get its house in order to recover its workforce

by | Mar 2, 2023 | Opinion

For hospitality workers and workers who have left the industry over the past couple of years, the He Tangata survey released by AUT this week will contain few suprises. Business owners and industry lobby groups however, may find a few unpleasant truths that don’t sit well with their own analysis of the industry’s staffing problems.

The headline statistic from the survey is that 59% of workers in hospitality and tourism in Aotearoa are planning to leave their current jobs in the next year or are unsure whether or not they will stay. Of those, 81% were looking to leave the industry altogether or were unsure whether they wanted to keep working in the sector.

The narrative trotted out by many restaurant and cafe owners when discussing their chronic staffing issues, is the pernennial “Nobody wants to work anymore”. Their theory goes that since the Covid lockdowns of 2020, Aotearoa’s young (and not so young) workers have discovered a taste for idleness and unemployment. These bosses have convinced themselves that their former cooks and wait staff are now living out a hedonistic existence of lavish, borrowed-password Netflix binges, complex TikTok dance routines, and elaborate show trials of their grandparents who inadvertently misgendered someone on Facebook.

The results of the AUT survey shows something other than the fecklessness of Generation Z might be at work. The survey shows that of the resondents working in the industry:

  • 9% did not sign employment agreements before starting work.
  • 29% did not get paid correct holiday pay.
  • 42% did not always get rest breaks.
  • 45% are either unsure or not planning to have a career in the sector.
  • 23% had experienced bullying and harassment and 34% had witnessed it.
  • When bullying and harassment was reported, 50% were unsure or were not told if any action was subsequently taken.
  • Bullying and harassment was only reported half of the time.
  • 53% didn’t know what the health and safety risks were in their workplace.
  • 35% did not say that health and safety risks were well managed in their workplace.
  • 13% had no training at all, and a further 38% have received only on the job training.
  • Only 4% belonged to a union, however 43% indicated they’d be interested to join one.

These figures show an industry failing its workforce. Unlawful employment practices are rife and there is a clear lack of basic respect for employees contained within these findings.

The statistics on bullying and harassment ring true with my experience of the industry in New Zealand and the reasons I Ieft hospitality after more than 20 years. In the last restaurant I worked, a colleague was attacked by another worker with a steak knife. Management took no action against the aggressor and simply instructed staff that they were not allowed to talk about the incident. And this at a restaurant with a reasonably good reputation for looking after its staff.

The Restaurant Association having been lobbying the government to let in more migrant workers to fill gaps left by workers dropping out of the industry. This will not solve the problems highlighted by the survey. Rather it will simply allow bad operators to continue to exploit their staff without consequences and put vulnerable migrants in harm’s way.

The industry as a whole needs to recover its reputation before it can regain its workforce. That means the law-abiding, ethical employers putting pressure on the law-breaking, exploitative minority. The likes of the Restaurant Assosiation might serve its members better by making sure its own house is in order before asking the government to loosen immigration controls.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash


About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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