Many businesses like pubs and hotels in regional WA are struggling to stay open without backpackers to fill casual positions. Small country towns rely on backpackers to staff hotels, pick fruit or help with harvest during the busy months. However, WA’s hard border shut down for the foreseeable future has meant there are not enough international workers to fill the positions. Before travel restrictions were introduced there were 140,000 backpackers in Australia, now there are only 85,000.
Regional businesses such as The Carnarvon Hotel have reported recent growth with WA residents travelling intrastate for their holidays. This has led to more positions opening to keep up with demand. Hotel owner Helen Newby says the situation is “worrying because I can’t find enough staff to help run my bustling business”. “I’m advertising for chefs, I’m advertising for bar staff, housekeepers — you can’t get them,” she said.
Other country hotels are having similar problems, The Perenjori Hotel owner concedes they may “have to drop accommodation [side of the business] if we’re not able to have staff to help service the rooms ”. Closing the accommodation side of the business would be a blow to the Perenjori Hotel with the usually busy wildflower season approaching.
Regional business owners remark it would be helpful if overseas workers could qualify for a second-year visa to work at regional businesses and in agricultural jobs. Another change that would help regional business owners is bringing unemployed people from the Perth metro area to work in regional WA. “JobKeeper and JobSeeker offered no incentive for West Australians to look for work in the regions,” says Perenjori Hotel owner Mr Kohl.
The Department of Home Affairs said travellers working in critical sectors like health, aged care, agriculture, and food processing were exempt from six-month limitations on working with one employer. The State Government says it is working with industry bodies to ensure labour and skill needs are met in agriculture and horticulture while supporting Western Australians looking for work.
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Written by Danielle McNamee