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Restaurant owners are hitting back after Minister of Immigration Michael Wood said they should offer better conditions and pay if they want to attract staff.

Labour mp michael wood

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

It followed after months of significant labour shortages that were causing businesses to cut back their opening hours and services.

In Queenstown, Flame Bar and Grill owner Lou McDowell had been spending about $2000 a month on Seek trying to attract more staff.

She was frustrated to hear Wood’s comments.

“He’s got absolutely no idea. How can you make better working conditions and offer more pay when there’s no one actually applying for the jobs?

“The problem is supply. There is just no staff, so you could offer someone $50 a hour and they’re still not going to turn up for a job interview cos there’s no-one to turn up.”

She said her business offered $27 an hour for an entry level server, along with staff meals, counselling support, and an aim to give staff two days off in a row.

“We have to close one night a week cos we haven’t got enough staff and then four nights a week we’ve had to close half the restaurant because we haven’t got enough staff.

“The travesty now is the demand’s there. The actual demand’s there but we haven’t got enough staff to fully open so we’re turning customers away in their droves cos we’ve had to close half the restaurant.”

In Auckland, Vivace restaurant part-owner Mandy Lusk said most places treated and paid their staff very well because they wanted to keep trained workers.

“You wouldn’t get anyone walking through your doors if you offered even the minimum wage.

“You just wouldn’t have a chance. Most of us are paying well above that.”

Vivace was now closed on Sunday and Monday to protect staff and had turned down functions to ensure there were two days off in a row.

They had about 160 hours a week of work they could not cover despite advertising non-stop for months.

“We’ve been forced to reduce our hours at night because we simply can’t find staff. We can’t get them home because of public transport issues and so we’ve had to start shutting early because the trains – particularly on the weekend when the trains and things haven’t been running.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it easy and attractive for staff to get in and work in the city.”

They had a few young New Zealand students on their books – but restrictions with student allowances meant they could not offer more work.

“Some of them can only earn $200 a week, and that actually seems kinda crazy because for them, they’re stressed also. They need to earn more because the cost of living is going up, their rent is going up, and yet they can’t work any more legally for us.

“If those caps were moved, it would give us huge help. It means that they can work 10 or 12 hours a week which is kind of ridiculous if you’re trying to support yourself as a student.”

Wood said work needed to be done to ensure fair and reasonable working conditions for all staff.

ChiChi Kitchen owner Eugene Chang said comments over pay were not fair, especially given businesses came in a range of sizes and types.

“You can’t generalise about paying our staff and employees not well. I think everybody is trying their best to look after their staff because we don’t want to lose a trained staff.”

The minister stood by his comments.

“I acknowledge that in many of these sectors there has been work going on. I have to say that at the same time, I do sometimes speak to workers from these sectors who reflect that that is not universally always the case, and can be off-putting of New Zealanders working in some of these sectors.

“We’ve got to do that work positively and constructively to lift pay and conditions.”

Today, Wood announced the start of the final stage of a new simplified visa that allows offshore migrants to apply to come and work in Aotearoa for an accredited employer.

“This year is about how we reconnect and how other countries reconnect with us.

“Today really is the first day in which the work visa system is fully open again.

“I know it’s been tight up until now but this system will enable us to start easing some of that pressure in the months to come.”

Wood said the visas of more than 33,000 critical workers and 13,000 working holiday makers had been approved so far.

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| hospitality bosses say higher pay won't attract workers: 'there is just no staff' | 5

| hospitality bosses say higher pay won't attract workers: 'there is just no staff' | 7