Hospitality industry desperate as worker shortage threatens to shut businesses down

The hospitality industry is bracing for a tough summer with a shortage of skilled workers threatening to shut some businesses down.

There are now calls for the Government to intervene and allow people from overseas to fill the gaps.

Opening a new restaurant is no easy feat but for chef Michael Merideth the challenge has been even harder.

"We're open but we're still short on chefs and front of house at this stage," he tells Newshub.

It's a shortage he never predicted would happen after COVID-19.

"I thought there would be a lot of people looking for work but you know it's totally the opposite of that," he says.

Wanaka chef Chrissi Roper is facing the same problem.

She can't find suitable workers to run her new food truck and says other bars and restaurants in the central Otago town are tearing their hair out with stress.

"I'm really nervous, to be honest. I'm really excited to start my new venture but if I don't have the staff I just can't, you know," she says.

The industry is calling on the Government to step in. It wants border exemptions and visa changes to help businesses find the skilled workers they so desperately need.

"Those who are left in the country get their visas extended just so we can get through the summer season and then we can start the long-term rebuild of upskilling our people," says Hospitality NZ CEO Julie White.

"We need help to get through this busy season. We need help to ensure the survival of our businesses," adds Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says he's aware of concerns raised by the hospitality sector and is urging them to recruit and train New Zealanders first.

Roper tried that and it hasn't worked.

"I'm just going to have to look at only opening a few days a week just to manage it until I can find more staff," she says.

An anxious wait for an industry nearing breaking point.