OPINION

Sapphire hospitality sector on a knife's edge

You can hear the sense of panic creeping in around the edges of the Bega Valley's food economy when business owners and operators talk of the coming summer.

Widespread staff shortages, economic depression, COVID-19 restrictions on operating - our cafes and restaurants are already struggling even before the influx of customers arrive at the door.

Then we hear reports of visitors upset that some eateries were unable to cope with the surprise demand of the October long weekend and school holidays crowds. Not a good look for a region in part dependent on tourism. They can only do their best in the circumstances though.

The pandemic has hit many industries hard. Tourism clearly. Cafes and restaurants almost as much given their reliance on the former.

Add to that a summer lost to the devastation of bushfires and the Sapphire Coast is just shy of 12 months into a protracted fight just to stay afloat. We've lost some along the way.

It would be easy to blame government-inspired restrictions for the current struggles faced by our cafe and restaurant owners - but think of where we could be had those lockdowns not occurred early on. We've been spared the illness and death toll being experienced in other parts of the country and the world.

And while that could cause one to think we can do away with the restrictions on our business, the cautious approach has clearly worked.

However, it leaves our businesses in a tentative position. Offloading staff early on because revenue evaporated has left eateries scrambling to fill positions now the country is beginning to open up once again.

Solutions are few and far between. We won't be seeing international visitors as seasonal workers for the forseeable future. And in an industry like hospitality, minimum wage is just that - Australia's lowest paid workers are in accommodation and food services.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of maths (and basic human nature) can see the government's Job Seeker payments are a more attractive option than taking on a role as a dishwasher or waiter in a busy restaurant.

Is it time to start paying hospitality and retail workers a better wage to make the busy sectors more attractive? In the current economic climate is that even a possibility?

Let me know what you think. Send a letter to the editor using the form below or email ben.smyth@austcommunitymedia.com.au

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