Mount Maunganui businesses hope border reopening will plug staff shortages

By Leah Tebbutt of RNZ

Cafes and restaurants in Mount Maunganui are run off their feet as they wait for the return of backpackers on working holidays to ease their staffing crisis.

Despite the busy summer season, restaurants were forced to open later to give staff some reprieve.

A walk down the town's main street shows diners soaking up the last period of summer, while staff inside are flustered.

From the outside looking in, it seems a normal scene, but Fish Face manager Elliot Barnes steals a minute to say otherwise.

"The staff situation is not great, we haven't got many boots on the ground at the moment. I'm the only full-time front of house staff member here at the moment.

"I was working multiple days in a row, racking up a lot of hours just to try and keep things afloat."

Barnes said despite continuous efforts to find staff, he had had no success and as a result, the restaurant cut its lunch service in the week during summer.

"These sort of jobs here, generally speaking, are geared towards backpackers.

"Maybe there's just a lack of those backpackers in the Mount at the moment, but it means every shop in this main stretch are looking for staff."

At least every second shop is advertising for workers as you continue down the main street.

Some managers are simply too busy to talk, they say, due to staffing issues.

Twenty metres down from the Fish Face restaurant, on the left hand side is Mount Surf Shop which is struggling to find a barista.

Manager Stevie Macfarlane said when it came to their retail offerings, they had decided to take a chance on those less experienced.

"We give a lot of young ones a chance, which is good, because they gain a lot of experience they can take on to their next job."

Macfarlane said her advice to neighbouring businesses was to take a chance on the youth.

"There's not a lot of staff at the moment but the young ones definitely have the capabilities - it just depends on who you hire and you have to hire them to learn that."

Across the road is Barrio Brothers manager Brenda Viera who is also desperate for staff.

She said in her experience, Kiwis did not want the work.

"I put an ad in the doorway and I didn't get any CVs coming through or people looking for jobs and I was like 'what is happening?'

"It's just very hard, we cannot think about the future just now because we don't know what's going to happen."

Viera said a lack of people on working holiday visas was also contributing to the shortage.

Mount Business Association operations manager Mailka Ganley agreed.

She said it broke her heart to see businesses which were open seven days a week consider the option of closing, to give their staff some respite.

"It's a huge problem and there is going to be a shift.

"Maybe it will be going back, not Sunday closings, but Monday or Tuesday when the majority of places are closed because there is just not the staff there."

Ganley hoped the March border changes would help flood the market with employment options because she recognised it was not just Mount Maunganui businesses competing for staff.

On 13 March, the borders will open to New Zealanders and eligible travellers from the rest of the world, including skilled workers and working holiday visas.

"This is happening right through New Zealand, we are not particularly unique down here," Ganley said.

"Every industry is struggling, every part of the country is struggling as well."

But for now, Mount Maunganui businesses say they will continue the struggle to find staff and hope their summer earnings will be enough to keep them afloat during winter.