For much of the pandemic, COVID restrictions have been the main reason creperie owner Michel Dubois has had to close his doors, but now he has a new problem to contend with: staff shortages.

Mr Dubois, who runs multiple businesses specialising in crepes and French-style toasties across Melbourne, said he was five staff short of being able to open at full capacity.

“It’s very, very hard,” he said.

“I need to close my shop some days because I have no staff.”

The Croque Monsieur owner said his turnover was low and the strain of having to pay rent at multiple sites was making things tough.

As hospitality businesses across the state go through the first phase of recovering from COVID lockdowns, some are finding the lack of international students and working visa holders in the workforce difficult.

Some restaurants, cafes and pubs across the state are reducing opening hours or closing altogether because they can’t find staff to fill shifts.

“I employ mostly students and working holidaymakers, and it’s very hard to find them,” Mr Dubois said

“Students need to come back now everybody is vaccinated.”

Situation ‘dire’ leading into Christmas period

Sean Kierce, who owns the Ladro restaurants in Fitzroy and Prahran, said ironically, despite staying open with fewer staff numbers for seven days a week throughout the pandemic, now he was having to reduce opening hours some days due to staff shortages.

“When it’s time to open now, we’ve been struggling to find extra staff to fill the shifts that we need to run two teams across seven days,” he said.

A man in a restaurant standing next to a table and chairs stacked up.
Sean Kierce is calling on the federal government to make it easier for international workers to enter Australia.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

Before the pandemic started he employed 45 staff, both full-time and casual, but now he only has about 20 employees.

He said he had been running ads on social media to try to recruit staff, but the lack of people flowing into the country was making things difficult.

“As an industry, we’re calling on the [federal] government to help us out, to allow internationals to come back into Australia,” he said.

“Whether that be through students, whether that be through backpackers, whether that be through special visas that they create to bring back international workers into Australia.”

He described the situation as “desperate” and “dire”.

“We’ve got bookings for seven days a week in December for Christmas functions, and at the moment we may have to call these people to say we can’t open for you on a Tuesday or a Wednesday because we just don’t have the staff,” he said.

Workers see opportunity to better their conditions

A man with a moustache wearing a navy top, standing in front of a tree.
Hospitality worker Charlie Phillips is urging others in the industry to bargain for improved pay and conditions.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

For the workers who are filling the shifts waiting tables and pouring beers for the post-lockdown crowds, the labour shortage serves as an opportunity to ask for more.

Hospitality worker Charlie Phillips said being in a powerful bargaining position was a “never before seen time” in the industry in Melbourne.

He said it would still be an “uphill fight” to try to bargain for better pay and conditions.

“There is definitely extra pressure on staff to work more and harder for no pay increase,” Mr Phillips said.

He urged other hospitality workers to take advantage of the situation.

“You are in a strong position, a stronger position than you may ever see again,” Mr Phillips said.

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