International students and temporary visa holders will lead takeaway and delivery efforts at Jessi Singh’s Melbourne venues Daughter in Law and Mrs Singh from Friday 10 April to Monday 13 April.
Visa holders make-up the majority of the two businesses’ total workforce. Many are unable to return to their home countries, such as India, Italy and France, because of the coronavirus crisis, but they’ve been left out of government support packages.
In response, Singh came up with the Temporary Resident Takeover. Any employee who isn’t eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments has been invited to participate in the initiative, which will see all sales over the Easter weekend divided equally between them.
“We have six people here on sponsored visas and about 80 percent of the rest of the staff are international students or backpackers,” says Singh. “All hospitality is like this; without them nothing moves in this country.”
The businesses rely on international workers, most of whom are highly trained chefs, cooks and managers. “Especially if you look at my cuisine [Indian], or any ethnic cuisine, it’s impossible to find a local chef,” says Singh, adding it will be difficult to replace the staff when it comes time to reopen.
“Remember we’re all going to open at the same time,” he says. “We won’t have staff.”
The goal of the Temporary Resident Takeover then, is in-line with the federal government’s own goal — to keep employees and employers connected to each other.
“My income has stopped, yes, but I’m very lucky to have everything and I can get a handout from the government.,” says Singh. “So my partner and I decided, let’s at least keep these guy’s jobs alive.
“People need to know how important they are to us. It doesn’t sit well with me that higher up people don’t see that. They are taxpayers.”
Many hospitality businesses have already been hard hit this year with sluggish summer sales due to the bushfires. Even at the best of times, it’s not uncommon for industry to get by on slim margins. The means most don’t have enough in the bank to pay wages without guaranteed cash flow.
“Businesses can’t afford to employ them because income has totally stopped and restaurant businesses work on a two percent markup,” says Singh. “I have nothing to lose because I’ve lost everything already. All my restaurants are closed. That’s why we decided to do a pop up.”
In addition to the Temporary Resident Takeover this weekend, Singh will open another pop-up in St Kilda on Tuesday. Again, the employees will be made up of temporary visa holders. “We still have about four people that we need to come up with a job for,” says Singh. “So we reached out to a friend who’s restaurant is closed. He has a couple of student chefs and we have three. Between those five we can open another pop-up.”
For Singh, it’s not just a matter of keeping his businesses alive — he wants to give back to the employees who’ve made his restaurants possible in the first place. “It is the meanest thing I’ve ever heard, that we’re leaving them behind or asking them to go back home,” he says. “They’re countries are suffering. It’s not humane to ask them to go back.”
Orders for the Temporary Resident Takeover can be placed online with Singh encouraging diners to choose the pick up option. “Please come and pick up, so we’re not losing 35 percent to commissions,” he says. “Then all money can go to [the staff]. You don’t need to get out of the car, just drive up [to the curb], call us and we’ll bring food out.”