Tourism and hospitality employers are battling the sector’s staffing crisis by hiking pay rates and introducing more worker-friendly shift patterns as well as compensating staff for unsocial hours, according to a study by State tourism agency, Fáilte Ireland.
Its latest research suggests the sector’s shortage of workers, while still a challenge for many businesses, has begun to ease. Figures provided to The Irish Times show the number of vacant positions in the industry dropped from 40,000 last autumn to about 22,000 in July, when the most recent research was carried out.
Fáilte Ireland says this does not necessarily mean that 18,000 open positions have been filled since last autumn, as efficiencies implemented by employers and also the end of Covid subsidies likely affected the figures. But, the agency said, it shows that a campaign by State tourism officials and industry leaders to address the root causes of the sector’s acute staffing crisis “appears to be working”.
“The research shows that working conditions are improving. The industry appears to have listened to the results of the last piece of research we did on this,” said Jenny De Saulles, Fáilte Ireland’s director of industry development.
For its most recent study, in July the agency asked 350 companies in the sector about the impact of the crisis and the measures undertaken to combat it, as well as surveying 3,800 workers in partnership with recruitment site Jobs.ie. The results were checked against previous research that was presented to employers at the end of last winter.
The up-to-date research still detected significant worries among employers that the staffing crisis could, if not addressed, severely damage their business with up to one-in-four saying they feared closure because of it. However, this was down on the 30 per cent that previously feared closure. Employers said it was less difficult to recruit for almost all positions, although there is still a huge shortage of chefs.
The older study found that negative perceptions around pay and conditions were the primary turn-off for potential workers in the sector. The most recent research suggests 74 per cent of employers in the sector have since hiked pay rates, while 63 per cent have introduced more flexible work patterns.
Only about 36 per cent of workers surveyed the last time out said they received extra pay for working on public holidays, but this number had risen to 42 per cent in the July study. Overall, however, the majority of staff in the sector say they still don’t receive any premium for unsocial hours. For example, only 18 per cent of night workers (midnight-7am) receive a shift premium, although this is up from 14 per cent in the last study.
Fáilte Ireland acknowledged that low pay is still the number one negative issue cited by workers and the issue is still a “hurdle” for the sector. But the numbers of staff who say they work for €10-€12 per hour has fallen from 54 to 46 per cent, while the number who say they are paid in a slightly higher bracket, €12-€15, has risen from 28 to 33 per cent.
Caeman Wall, the agency’s head of economic and industry analysis, said hotels in particular appeared to be showing a lot of new-found flexibility in their working conditions. He said some employers were now employing more staff than before, but with each staff member working less hours. This had added “operational complexity” for some businesses, he said.
Ms De Saulles also revealed that 65 businesses have so far signed up to Fáilte Ireland’s Employer Excellence certification programme, which was formally launched almost three weeks ago.
“More are talking to us and appear to be interested in signing up,” she said.