Regional companies go to great lengths to find workers

Burrows (right) with Kung-Yen Cheng often staying put rather than driving up Hawthorn. Credit:Justin McManus

The company is looking to hire two new managers and is offering additional annual leave, fuel allowances and housing if needed.

“We have cars that we could potentially donate to the right people.”

One of Trawool’s employees, party leader Kung-Yen Cheng, commutes from Hawthorn and often stays in the on-site cabin.

In Queensland, some Sunshine Coast hotels are reportedly bringing in workers from Brisbane as soaring prices push homes out of reach for workers in cities like Noosa.

Noosa Council and Noosa Chamber of Commerce are preparing to introduce a housing scheme in hopes of securing spare rooms or vacant houses for workers.

House Speaker Ralph Rogers said innovative solutions were needed.

Noosa suffers from a severe shortage of workers and affordable housing.

Noosa suffers from a severe shortage of workers and affordable housing.

“The labor supply management challenge is not unique to Noosa and neither state nor federal
governments currently have answers to the glaring disconnect between average weekly wages, the cost
housing and labor supply,” he said.

Figures released in April showed regional Victorian house prices had soared over the previous 12 months, with nearly all regional councils recording double-digit price growth.

On the Great Ocean Road, Lorne Central cafe owner Bryce Newcomb said he left town because he couldn’t afford a house big enough for his family. They now live near Birregurra.

“There was nothing really affordable or practical in Lorne,” he said.

Newcomb said many other families have moved away from Lorne, depriving the businesses of a younger generation of casual workers who would otherwise work there.

Newcomb said he pays up to $70,000 a year for a barista to work 38 hours a week over four days, plus four weeks annual leave. Previously, he employed baristas on a casual basis.

Newcomb also offers accommodation in two apartments which it has above the cafe.

He estimated that Lorne was short about 200 workers over the summer.

The scarcity of available housing in Lorne exacerbates the labor shortage.

The scarcity of available housing in Lorne exacerbates the labor shortage. Credit:Eddie Jim

Liz Price, regional tourism general manager for Great Ocean Road, said that before the pandemic there was a shortage of 400 to 600 workers in the tourism sector in the region.

“I think now it’s easily more than doubled,” she said.

The group has been pushing for worker accommodation to be built in government-owned caravan parks in Lorne, Apollo Bay and Torquay, which are operated by the Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority.

Authority chief executive Jodie Sizer said her group is continually looking to increase accommodation capacity for seasonal workers on the Great Ocean Road, particularly in Lorne.

On the Mornington Peninsula, the consortium behind the Sorrento Hotel development recently purchased a nearby vacant retirement home which it plans to convert into housing for workers.

The consortium, which includes Trenerry Property Group, Victor Smorgon Group and Kanat Group, wants to complete the rooms in time for the summer peak. But the project is challenged in the Civil and Administrative Court of Victoria.

Trenerry Group director Robert Dicintio said it was impractical for workers to travel from Melbourne to Sorrento. “It’s just not viable for an employee to commute for three hours,” he said.

House prices have risen rapidly on the Mornington Peninsula, making it harder for local businesses to find staff.

House prices have risen rapidly on the Mornington Peninsula, making it harder for local businesses to find staff. Credit:iStock

Dicintio said workers’ rooms would be three-star and cost around $40 a night.

Regional tourism and hospitality businesses in New South Wales are grappling with the same issues. NSW Tourism Industry Council executive director Greg Binskin said some caravan parks are setting aside cabins to house workers.

He said many hotel businesses were unable to open all week due to lack of staff.

“For regional areas, it’s not a good customer experience,” he said.

Regional councils across Australia have been examining whether short-term rental platforms, such as Airbnb, are denying long-term accommodation to permanent residents.

In New South Wales, the Byron Shire is considering a 90-day cap on short-term holiday accommodation to increase the number of properties available for long-term rental.

Destination Byron board member David Jones said the town was already suffering from a severe housing shortage and recent flooding had only made matters worse.

He said the tourism and hospitality sectors in Byron Bay could easily take on another 500 workers.

“We don’t expect it to get better anytime soon,” he said.

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