Why Sydney’s hospitality industry is still struggling to find staff

To avoid the hassle of trying to hire staff at a new restaurant just weeks before opening, Jenkins said Applejack began her hiring process three months before RAFI opened in September.

“It’s going to be 290 seats, so it’s a big venue,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said Applejack made a conscious decision to create a vibrant work culture and encourage people to enter the industry.

Jenkins said Applejack made a conscious decision to create a vibrant work culture and encourage people to enter the industry.Credit:louis kennerley

“We’re pretty close to sorting out the team, but we started recruiting three months ago and we’ve been holding them back. [the staff] in other places. Yes, it would cost a little more in labor, but we saw that the value would be there once we opened the restaurant.”

Hospitality is often a tough industry with common business failures. Data from the Bureau of Statistics shows that the pre-tax profit margin in the industry was around 6.5% before the pandemic, with wages and salaries representing a significant cost of about a quarter of turnover. The sector’s margins are relatively low, about half those of the general private sector economy.

However, hospitality, which employs some 900,000 people, is diverse. It ranges from smaller cafes and restaurants that are often struggling to gigantic hotel and pub empires that can make huge profits.


A worker at one of Sydney’s giant clubs, Dave, who preferred not to name his current employer to protect himself from repercussions, said the pandemic has opened up options for hospitality workers.

“A lot of people during the pandemic realized that there were a lot of opportunities and that you don’t need to deal with the stress of dealing with clients or client abuse,” he says.

“In stocking, picking and packing, you can make up to $35 an hour, that’s for a day shift. Why would you work for $22 an hour on a day shift in an environment where you could be abused and have to deal with drunks?

United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said the labor shortage is a product of the pandemic and the industry’s heavy reliance on temporary migrant workers. “They were subject to wage theft and exploitation, and we told them to go home,” he said, “they haven’t come back.”


Kennedy said that getting these workers back means giving them greater rights and a better path to permanent residency.

For Applejack, providing permanent job options to casual staff and showing employees that there are career options in hospitality has been a key focus after the closures.

“We are much more focused on asking front desk staff if they would like a career in hospitality and having succession plans for our employees.”

“Much more attention has been paid to staff retention and promoting our workplaces as a social environment.”

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