Brisbane hospitality workers struggle for shifts

At first glance, the  hospitality industry seems bulletproof: while the public sector has lost 55,000 jobs nationally since February, hospitality jobs are up by 4.4 per cent.

But many casual hospitality workers in Brisbane are leaving their jobs in droves as cuts on corporate spending continue, despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics jobs survey listing hospitality as the number one growth industry for job creation.

Casual catering food and beverage attendant at Hilton hotel Brisbane, Hayley McCoy, 22, says staff turnover in her department has been extremely high this year, with almost half her current colleagues looking to find another job.

She says although many in the team have been employed at the Brisbane Hilton hotel for years, work has drastically “dried up” over the last six months, with most casual staff receiving only one shift a week.

“If I didn’t have a room at home, I don’t know what I’d have done,” Ms McCoy said.

“We used to get… at least three to four shifts a week guaranteed.

“At first we thought it was just a bit of a slow beginning to the year, but it’s dragged on and on… it’s nowhere near enough to live on.”

Hilton Brisbane general manager Martin Kendall said although occupancy had remained high throughout the year, he conceded spending on meetings and conferences was “below expectations”.

Unfortunately, this is not just isolated to one hotel in the Brisbane CBD.

Law student and food and beverage attendant at the Sofitel hotel Laura James, 23, says she no longer has to “fight off” requests to work additional hours.

"Now I scrap over extra shifts," she said.

Agency work aplenty

However, while some businesses may be struggling, hospitality agency Pinnacle People public affairs manager John Hardy says overall “business is booming”.

However, he cautions this is not necessarily indicative of a healthy hospitality industry - instead, it could mean companies cannot maintain a permanent work force and therefore require contracted labour in rare times of peak demand.

Mr Hardy also said the high levels of job creation could be to due to “back-filling” vacancies left open when hospitality workers ditched their catering jobs on mine sites for better paid positions with mining companies.

“A lot of catering companies up in North Queensland found themselves losing their chefs and stewards to mining companies who poached them to drive trucks for twice the money,” he said.

Mr Hardy acknowledged the situation in Queensland had been “tough” with the 2011 floods on top of the global financial crisis aftermath and the strong Australian dollar reducing international visitors.

“Queensland has really struggled with natural disasters over the last couple of years and the effect of that can’t be underestimated,” he said.

"When money is tight, conferencing and… corporate entertainment spending is always the first thing to go.

“So companies that once upon a time had their own in-house catering… now out-source so they only use it when necessary… rather than it being an everyday thing.”

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman famously pared back catering for Queensland government departments in May, providing to tea, coffee and orange juice during meetings only.

Relocation necessary

Mr Hardy said people serious about having a progressive career in hospitality should no longer expect one city to yield every opportunity and will need to consider relocating, with Western Australia a key destination.

However, Queenslanders had best get in quickly - Western Australian hotel and hospitality leaders and business representatives recently travelled to Dublin to encourage experienced Irish workers to fill more than 5,000 jobs in the boomtown state.

The Australian Hotels Association seminar, held at the Burlington hotel, Dublin, on 2 - 3 October, 2012, was reported both in local online and social media, with one tweet about the seminar, tagged as “jobfairy” retweeted 13 times.