ATEC View – September 2011
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Labour and skills – hard work for Australia’s regional tourism operators
By Felicia Mariani, managing director, Australian Tourism Export Council
RECENT announcements on the expansion of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme by the Federal Government are a significant milestone for our industry.
Under the pilot program, Minister Ferguson announced, “Workers from East Timor will have the opportunity to be paid to train and work in Broome for four to six months in tourism enterprises who show they cannot source sufficient labour locally to meet seasonal demands.”
This marks the first opportunity ever presented to the tourism industry to access the seasonal workers scheme as a source of securing employees in a regional area and is tangible evidence that the Government is prepared to initiate actions that will move to address the labour and skills shortages that have been plaguing our industry since 2008.
ATEC sees this as a positive move towards helping the industry get the labour and skills it needs, particularly in regional areas which have historically struggled to attract skilled labour in the best of times.
While this is a great first step, it is just a first step and there is much more to be done to ameliorate the hurdles we face in this area. Our industry contributes $34 billion to Australia’s economy representing 2.6 per cent of GDP. We employ over half a million Australians directly in our industry which is 4.5 per cent of Australia’s total employment.
ATEC has argued for some time now that our industry is labour-intensive and the quality of Australian tourism products relies largely on our capacity to provide a high level of service standards.
We have a real need for staff at all skill levels and, in particular, we need to seek out creative solutions to address the seasonal needs of some parts of the industry. In regional Australia, these issues have been magnified.
Our industry is suffering from all of the same pressures many other industries are facing – a high Australian dollar, the introduction of the carbon price and the uncertainly of the current economic climate diminishing consumer confidence level. Our regional tourism operators in particular are hindered by labour shortages at every skill level and face difficulties in attracting appropriate staff to support their employment needs.
ATEC has been advocating for revisions to the Working Holiday-maker Visa arrangements including bringing tourism into line with mining, construction, agriculture and horticulture by allowing travellers working in tourism in regional parts of Australia to extend a second year on their visa, increasing the age limit on the WHM Visa from 30 to 35; and allowing young people to apply for a second WHM Visa at a later point in time.
On August 30, ATEC attended a Ministerial Roundtable in Canberra to discuss the challenges facing the industry around labour and skills. We raised the issue of these changes to with Ministers Ferguson and Sherry and the outcomes from this meeting would indicate that there is at least openness to, and an appetite for, considering such issues.
While many in the tourism industry feel they have not seen the benefits of the mining boom, there are certainly opportunities for us to grow off the back of a fast emerging Asia market. Harnessing these opportunities will take drive and commitment from both Government and our industry.
ATEC View column appears quarterly.