Queensland businesses desperate for staff

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland Policy and Advocacy General Manager Amanda Rohan.

Queensland businesses are paying skilled workers premium wages, stretching labour forces thin or in some cases unable to trade as usual, as ongoing international border closures and limited migration puts pressure on the state’s workforce.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) data found skill and labour shortages across the majority of industry sectors and especially in rural, regional and remote Queensland meant businesses attempted to offset a reduction in overseas and interstate workers through attracting Queenslanders with higher wages.

Almost half of businesses increased their labour costs during the September quarter to levels higher than the previous year and higher than the 10-year average.

“While we know the increase in the minimum wage and employer superannuation contributions likely contributed to this, however, businesses told us they were forced to offer more competitive wages to attract and maintain skilled workers in a competitive labour market,” CCIQ policy and advocacy general manager Amanda Rohan said.

“We know other businesses have been forced to amend their trading hours or capacity and, in some cases not open at all,.dWe to a lack of staff caused through a combination of Covid isolation requirements and an inability to fill roles because of a tight labour market.

“These challenges are not exclusive to the south east or even tourism hotspots. We have been seeing labour shortages right across the state.”

Employment levels declined in the same period, reflecting a reduction in sales but also skill and labour shortages as a result of border closures.

Many businesses saw similar lower employment levels continue in the December quarter with international labour markets restricted, despite access to Queensland re- established, Ms Rohan said.

“Businesses told us they expected students and foreign workers would be able to fill employment gaps and skills shortages when international borders re-opened however ongoing international travel uncertainty would impact consumer confidence and some expected it would also hinder long-term economic growth,” Ms Rohan said.

“Both skilled and unskilled migrants are crucial in sustaining Queensland’s steady population growth and economic prosperity.

“Without the reintroduction of overseas migrants, businesses will lack the employees they require to keep their doors open and the economy will have greater difficulty recovering in the wake of Covid-19.”

CCIQ’s submission to the Department of Home Affairs to inform the planning of Australia’s migration program for 2022-23 recommended an increase in overseas migration, a focus on bringing employer-sponsored migrants and an extension of the Designated Area Migration Agreement to include Queensland regions.

“A simpler migration process should also include upskilling and reskilling opportunities, clear pathways from temporary visas to permanent residency in Australia and prioritisation of employer-sponsored regional visas to ensure businesses in our regions can compete for access to skilled workers,” Ms Rohan said.

As a Regional Certifying Body, CCIQ is helping businesses increase their workforce by sponsoring highly skilled foreign workers.

Registered migration agent and Pacific Centre Managing Director Piotr Ferenc has been working with Queensland businesses since 2007 to fill skills gaps and identify international labour markets capable of working in the state’s business.

He says the current skills crisis is the result of ongoing visa accessibility challenges established prior to Covid, changes to visa requirements for hospitality and tourism workers following the onset of Covid in Queensland and now a further reduced workforce as staff are forced to isolate or recover from Covid.

“When Covid started to impact in Queensland, hospitality and tourism workers were not offered the same visa opportunities as those in other industries like agriculture and medical, which were considered essential,” Mr Ferenc said.

“That was changed a year and a half later, in May 2021, by which time skilled and unskilled visa holders who were previously working in Queensland had to go home when their visa expired and they were not eligible to re-apply. They wanted to stay and had opportunities to but they were not considered essential.

“By then it was too late for those people to re-enter Australia as the international borders had closed.”

He said a large proportion of remaining staff in Queensland had to isolate due to Covid cases, meaning the workforce on the ground had been spread even thinner.

Mr Ferenc said there were tens of thousands of positions available across the state, especially in trade roles like hospitality, construction and mechanical.

He said he expected businesses would be forced to close as a potential consequence if the skills gap was not addressed urgently and he was pushing for emergency visas to allow skilled and unskilled migrants to fill the skills gap short-term.

“There is demand for employees across the whole state,” he said.

“The criteria now is two hands and two legs, these businesses are desperate.

“A fast track visa is not enough, we don’t have time. There is need now for emergency visas.”