Hair salons say the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP), combined with lucrative black market nixers for hairdressers working from home, is leading to a staffing “crisis” in the industry. One Dublin chain, L’Ombré, said it turns away up to 40 per cent of customers because of a staff shortage.
The Hairdressing Council of Ireland, which has 1,800 members including salon owners and stylists, said the shadow economy is causing huge damage to the industry and has called for Government action to tackle it.
"It is a problem across the board," said Wayne Lloyd, who owns two salons in Cork is also the president of the council.
“We need to talk about the shadow economy. A lot of hairdressers since the pandemic have worked illegally from home. I think everybody knows this. But what happens if people stay with their black market hairdresser who doesn’t pay tax? Everyone will have to pay that bill.”
Mr Lloyd, who operates from premises in Ballydehob and Bandon, said a junior stylist might earn €450 per week: “But they’ll get €350 on the PUP. They can probably also earn decent money at home and not pay any tax. So why would you bother [coming back to work in a salon]? It is a crisis point in our industry. The system isn’t working at the moment.”
L'Ombré is run by Palestinian businessman, Mohamed Alkurd. It operates nine salons in Dublin and prior to the pandemic it had about 180 staff. Mr Alkurd said that 22 of his staff did not to return to work after the most recent lockdown, on top of about nine departures after the second lockdown, and 18 staff who did not return last summer after the first lockdown ended.
“We are suffering here. We are refusing about 40 per cent of bookings. In one of my salons, I had 21 staff. Only 14 of them came back. The whole Government system is not helping employers,” he said.
Mr Alkurd said a full-time qualified stylist would earn anywhere from €750 to as much €1,250 per week gross, which nets out at about €600 to €850 per week.
He said he recently offered one stylist €800 for a five-day week: “This person told me they could make that in two days at home. We need qualified staff with a good clientele. We train them for four or five years. And now we’ve lost them.”
Mr Lloyd, who maintains a high media profile as an award winning stylist, said many salons are offering “unsustainable” money to stylists: “It is ill-advised, because why offer them more money than they can bring in for you? A salon operates on a 3-5 per cent profit margin. If this continues, there will be salons closing even though they are busy.”
He said he plans to look to agencies abroad to bring in stylists to work in his business: “When the hospitality industry goes back, imagine how hard it is going to be to find staff then.”
Almost 26,000 people closed their PUP claim last week as they returned to work, the latest Government figures show. Almost 334,000 were claiming the payment at various levels up to €350 per week, at a weekly cost to the State of about €102 million.