Regional companies go to great lengths to keep workers safe

Burrows (right) with Kung-Yen Cheng often staying on site rather than driving to Hawthorn. Credit:Justin McManus

The company is looking for two new managers and will offer additional leave, fuel allowances and housing as needed.

“We have cars that we can potentially give to the right people.”

One of Trawool’s employees, chef de partie Kung-Yen Cheng, commutes from Hawthorn and often stays at the cottage on site.

In Queensland, some Sunshine Coast hotels are said to bring in workers from Brisbane as rising prices push homes out of reach for workers in cities, including Noosa.

The Noosa Council and the Noosa Chamber of Commerce are preparing to implement a billeting program in hopes of securing spare rooms or vacant homes for workers.

House Speaker Ralph Rogers said innovative solutions were needed.

Noosa suffers from a serious shortage of labor and affordable housing.

Noosa suffers from a serious shortage of labor and affordable housing.

“The challenge of managing the labor supply is not unique to Noosa and neither state nor federal
governments currently have answers to the glaring discrepancy between average weekly wages, costs
of housing and labor supply,” he said.

Figures released in April showed: regional Victorian house prices had skyrocketed in the past 12 months, with nearly every regional council recording double-digit price growth.

On the Great Ocean Road, Lorne Central cafe owner Bryce Newcomb said he moved out of town because he couldn’t afford a house big enough for his family. They now live in nearby Birregurra.

“There was nothing really affordable or practical in Lorne,” he said.

Newcomb said many other families had moved out of Lorne, depriving companies of a younger generation of temporary workers who would otherwise work there.

Newcomb said he paid up to $70,000 a year for a barista to work 38 hours a week for four days, plus four weeks of annual leave. He previously employed baristas on an informal basis.

Newcomb also offers accommodation in two apartments he has above the cafe.

He estimated that Lorne was short of about 200 workers during the summer.

The scarcity of available housing in Lorne exacerbates the staff shortage.

The scarcity of available housing in Lorne exacerbates the staff shortage. Credit:Eddie Jim

Liz Price, general manager of Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism, said there was a shortage of 400 to 600 tourism workers across the region before the pandemic.

“I think it’s easily more than doubled now,” she said.

The group has pushed for the construction of workers’ housing on government-run caravan parks in Lorne, Apollo Bay and Torquay managed by the Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority.

The chief executive of the authority, Jodie Sizer, said her group was constantly looking to expand accommodation capacity for seasonal workers on the Great Ocean Road, particularly in Lorne.

On the Mornington Peninsula, the consortium behind the development of the Sorrento Hotel recently purchased a nearby vacant nursing home that it plans to convert into housing for employees.

The consortium, which includes the Trenerry Property Group, Victor Smorgon Group and the Kanat Group, wants to have the rooms ready in time for the summer peak. But the project is being challenged in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Court.

Trenerry Group director Robert Dicintio said it was impractical for workers to travel from Melbourne to Sorrento. “It’s just not feasible for an earner to commute for three hours,” he said.

House prices in the Mornington Peninsula have risen rapidly, making it more difficult for local businesses to find workers.

House prices in the Mornington Peninsula have risen rapidly, making it more difficult for local businesses to find workers. Credit:iStock

Dicintio said the workers’ rooms would be three-star and cost about $40 a night.

Regional tourism and hospitality businesses in New South Wales face similar challenges. NSW Tourism Industry Council executive manager Greg Binskin said some caravan parks are setting aside cabins to accommodate workers.

He said many catering establishments were unable to open all week because of their lack of staff.

“For regional areas, that’s not a good customer experience,” he said.

Regional councils in Australia have investigated whether short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb are denying long-term homes to permanent residents.

In New South Wales, the Byron Shire is considering a 90-day limit for short-term holiday accommodation in order to increase the number of long-term rental properties.

Destination Byron board member David Jones said the city was already suffering from a severe housing shortage and recent flooding has only exacerbated the situation.

He said Byron Bay’s tourism and hospitality sectors could easily accommodate another 500 workers.

“We don’t expect it to get better anytime soon,” he said.

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