Restaurant Association of New Zealand’s Chief Executive Officer Marisa Bidois is proposing to the government that allocation of some MIQ spaces for migrant workers for the hospitality industry could be one possible solution to address the burgeoning crisis in front of the industry.

Bidois spoke with the Indian Weekender about the staff-shortage issue, the government’s response, and suggestions in some quarters that the industry was not treating its workers, particularly migrant workers, in a kind and compassionate manner, therefore further triggering the exodus of workers from the industry.

Bidois acknowledged that the industry could and should do more to give its workers a long career option and in fact, suggested that there was a wider recognition and willingness within the sector to do more on this.

However, she was absolutely clear that the staff shortage crisis was real, despite suggestions from many quarters, including the government, that there were enough locals to work in the sector.

Here are excerpts of the interview with Maisa Bidois.

IWK: Can you tell us more about the Lights-out campaign that your Association has spearheaded?

 MB: It is part of the larger campaign called “Reset”, which is about raising awareness about the skill shortage in the hospitality industry. Currently, we are taking few different types of approaches to the issue, and the lights out were one of the things we were doing. It involved hospitality businesses gathering together to turn their lights out for two minutes to have an opportunity to talk about the issues not only with the customers but also to raise this issue with the government.

IWK: What was the outcome? Did it manage to make any impact?

MB: We had a very positive response so far. We are now in touch now with the Immigration Minister’s office, and we are seeking out sometimes to catch up with the Minister.

So often the hospitality is at the bottom of the heap in terms of attention so it really did the job of raising awareness about the issue it certainly will solve the problems.

IWK: Do you think that the government is actually listening?

MB: At this stage, I would say no… they probably haven’t been listening to what we are saying. They haven’t understood the challenges of the business.

However, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt because we are being given the opportunity to be heard. To me an opportunity to be heard is really important. Whether we get what we want is a different thing. I am pragmatic about that, but it is so important for businesses across the country, and their concerns are being heard.

IWK: A lot of people say that the hospitality sector does not pay employees enough? Is that one of the reasons for the labour shortage as well?

MB:  Right now, we’re in a unique environment. We have closed borders because of Covid. The environment is not what it was a few years ago, so to a way for hospitality is really missing the point because right now, it’s not just hospitality facing the labour shortage but also other industries who’re struggling with the same issue.

However, if we look into the long term strategy in our business, we will definitely review and assume that people in hospitality as important career options, and so in order to do that, we need to constantly listen to the people who are working within the industry.

IWK: What solutions industry is proposing to the government to fix the problem?

MB: One of the few things we have been proposing is that we think immigration policies play a crucial role in supporting us through this difficult time. One of the things we put on the table we like to see an automated extension of the visas that are currently in New Zealand.

We think instead of having people re-applying for their visas, that is an easy way to reassure us that a certain percentage of labour for hospitality and for other industries across the country. These are great people we have in our country and are doing great work for respective industries. Why not look at it that way and have those people staying for longer. We also need some MIQ spaces allocated to the hospitality as well, those are just a few things, and these are immediate solutions.