Restaurant & Catering Australia may have welcomed the federal government’s decision to abolish the 457 visa program, but chefs and restaurateurs around the country are seriously concerned about the impact it will have on the industry’s existing skills shortage.
On 18 April, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the government would scrap the existing 457 visa scheme and replace it with a new one comprising two streams: one short term (issued for two years) and one medium term (issued for up to four years). Both will be subject to labour market testing including a requirement for two years of work experience, a market salary rate assessment and a new non-discriminatory workforce test.
Other changes include:
- There will be no permanent residency pathway for short-term visas
- There will be a longer waiting period for medium-term visa holders before they can apply for permanent residency
- There will be a requirement for better knowledge of English
- Only one visa renewal will be allowed onshore
Both the AHA (WA) and R&CA welcomed the news, but said it’s essential that the specific requirements of the hospitality industry – currently experiencing a serious skills shortage – are taken into consideration.
“We will be happy to work with the federal government to ensure that their objective of growing local employment is met, while also encouraging growth in the hospitality sector through carefully targeted temporary skilled worker placements, particularly to support regional Australia,” said AHA CEO, Stephen Ferguson.
Michael Shafran, founder of Brooklyn Boy Bagels, told Hospitality the government would have been better off ensuring the existing 457 visa program is applied fairly, rather than axing it all together.
“The 457 scheme was fine in itself. If anything, maybe there needed to be more enforcement to make sure those schemes are being used properly and that staff are being treated fairly. No scheme would be perfect. It just feels like people are being xenophobic.
“People who are on visas and were looking to extend are now seriously thinking about just leaving the country,” he said. “We’ve got a skills shortage and now we’re about to have a skills exodus.”
Shafran stressed that certain businesses within the hospitality industry need to source skilled professionals from abroad.
“I came here on a 457 visa and now I’m here providing jobs for Australians. People have to think about the bigger picture, rather than just a black and white issue.
“The reality is that they [staff] are often hard to find in Australia, especially in the high-end where you need skill, like artisan skills. There are experiences from overseas that aren’t pervasive here, and you need to go overseas.
“We have an application in progress now for a talented baker from France who would bring a unique skillset here. We’ve had trouble hiring head bakers in the past and [last time] we needed someone right away, [the position] took a month and a half [to fill], which bred a lot of inconsistency,” he said.
At Sydney’s nel. Restaurant, owner and chef Nelly Robinson doesn’t sponsor visa holders but agrees that finding Australians willing to accept the realities of the job is difficult.
“When you’re trying to employ guys and you’re trying to employ Australians, they don’t want to do the hours – and that’s no offence to Aussies. We’ve tried and tried and they just don’t want to do it because they haven’t been brought up in that hostile [kitchen] environment in Europe or America. So it’s really hard to find Aussies who want to take the jobs,” he said.
“Are they prepared to do 16 hour days in the kitchen? The answer is no. It’s a hard one because I understand that Aussies deserve jobs, and the situation is the same in the UK at the moment, where people are taking jobs off English people – plumbers and painters – but at the end of the day the English don’t want those jobs. Why would you hire someone half-hearted when you can get someone from abroad to come in and do the job for you?”
Robinson said that having access to 457 workers makes it easier for foodservice businesses to quickly fill vacancies. He was recently advertising a chef de partie role at nel. Restaurant for almost four months and eventually hired a Japanese chef.
“There are some very good chefs who are Australian, and some very good front of house staff who are Australian – don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, there aren’t enough of them, so you have to fill the gaps.”