Changes announced in the budget to speed up visa processing are not enough to alleviate skills shortages in the hospitality sector, restaurant owners said tonight.

Delivering his first budget Treasurer Jim Chalmers made good on Labor’s election promise to address the skills gap, revealing an investment of over $1.4 billion to boost both the TAFE and University sectors and grow Australia’s skilled workforce.

The budget also focused on accelerating visa processing for casual workers and came after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlighted Australia as the country with the 2nd worst skill shortage in the developed world, with Australia’s unemployment rate remaining at a low of 3.5 per cent.

Amidst the billion-dollar focus on the cost of living and flood relief and expanding paid parental leave, Chalmers highlighted the government’s commitment to providing 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational educational places in 2023, and 480,000 of these spaces in the next five years to reduce the nations ‘widespread skill shortages’.

However, restaurant operators expressed doubts about the Treasurer’s plan.

Peter Coutet, who manages Melbourne restaurant Elwood Bathers, said the budget is unlikely to have any real impact of the skills shortage facing the industry.

Over the last two years the COVID-19 pandemic prompted casual workers on international visas to leave Australia, while local hospitality workers moved to less impacted industries during lockdowns.

The industry-wide labour shortage significantly impacted business owners in the hospitality industry.

“Our industry is suffering from a lack of workers, skilled chefs, managers, waiters and sommeliers and unskilled workers such as dishwashers and cleaners. We’re at least 40 per cent behind our average numbers for staff, as we usually depend on international and visa holders to fill these spaces,” he said.

We just need to see skilled workers returning to Australia; that’s the only way I see the shortage disappearing.

Despite the government’s commitment to driving the pool of available skilled workers for front-of-house and back-of-house roles by increasing TAFE funding, Coutet said the industry still needs caps on the number of international migrants to be lifted.

“We just need to see skilled workers returning to Australia; that’s the only way I see the shortage disappearing,” he told Central News.

“The shortage means that all stakeholders – suppliers, workers, state and federal governments – are missing out on revenue because it means we have had to reduce our hours of operation.”

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was more optimistic about the budget, stating the initiatives will have an “immediate impact” on businesses.

“The focus on skills development and vocational training will keep our workforce primed to help business take on future challenges,” said a spokesperson.

In October the body recommended the Labor government pay more recognition to foreign qualifications, work experience, and training of migrant workers, particularly in industries where skill shortages are critical.

Chief executive Paul Guerra told Central News the Victorian Chamber is pleased with measures in tonight’s Budget that aim to address labour shortages.

“The biggest issue facing businesses right now – across every sector and every area – is skills and labour shortages and there are many measures in tonight’s Budget that aim to address those. These include expanding paid parental leave, making childcare cheaper, incentivising pensioners and international students to work more and welcoming back more skilled migrants,” Guerra said.

“We know there’s a lot in here that hospitality businesses will welcome.”

Main image of Peter Coutet by Annabel Cox.