Last week, Immigration New Zealand refused a request by the hospitality industry to add Café and Restaurant Managers to its Immediate Shortages List (“ISSL”).  This is despite the claim that most employers have real difficulty in finding people to fill these roles.

Is it about Salaries?

On the other hand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment asserts that it has hundreds of New Zealanders with the necessary experience to take up the work, and more hospitality management graduates coming through.  It accuses the industry of underpaying these roles.  If food outlets would increase the salaries they offer, this would attract more Kiwis to do the work.

 MBIE claims that the average wage paid for this sort of job is $40K.  A basic search on Seek does not bear this out – many of the jobs on offer are in the band $40 – $70K, and the median is likely to be in the mid-50s.  The Government’s own Careers NZ website cites Assistant Managers as being paid $18 – $21 per hour, while Restaurant Managers proper earn $21 – $34 per hour, or $43 – $71K per year.  Interestingly, its source is the Restaurant Association’s figures, so it begs the question of where MBIE gets its $40K average from.

Why the ISSL?

The reason for trying to get Café and Restaurant Managers onto the Shortage List is that it removes the need for a Labour Market Test in order to hire a migrant on a Work Visa.  As things stand, many applicants are turned down because INZ claims that the employer has not properly advertised the position before offering it to someone from overseas, or that the salary being offered is too low for NZers to accept, so it unfairly cuts local workers out.

It is a long-running bone of contention.  This set of occupations used to be on the ISSL until about 2013.  Then INZ issued an internal Advice to Staff to subject any visa application for a Café or Restaurant Manager to more intense scrutiny than usual.  It amounted to a direction to presume that such cases should be declined.  The justification was, at least in part, that many of the jobs being put forward were inflated, and did not in fact involve the level of managerial skill which the job classification required.  That historical Advice is no longer visible in INZ’s Resource Library, but it reflects a strong bias against this class of job, which continues to this day.

The Way Forward

If our food outlets can’t get good staff through supporting Work Visa applications, then they do have the other option of hiring degree-level graduates of NZ colleges, who get open Work Visas allowing them to work wherever they like for 3 years.  As I have pointed out in a blog post in February, this has the effect of sending workers in this industry out of Immigration’s sight.  While MBIE is rightly concerned about the exploitation of workers in industries such as hospitality, its failure to respond to a call for help from employers will fuel that problem.

Cafés and restaurants form an essential element of New Zealand’s tourist industry.  When they can’t deliver good service because they can’t get the staff they need, then this hits the country in a vulnerable place – its international reputation as a desirable destination.  The evidence on the ground for many years is clear: New Zealanders are not fronting up to do these jobs.  And the jobs are not badly paid, on the whole.  It is therefore time for MBIE policymakers to move some levers to enable employers to readily source the migrant job market.