A Wellington cafe owner says his hunt for good staff members has become almost impossible in the months since Aotearoa's first COVID-19 lockdown.
Michael, the owner of Compass Coffee in Seaview, told Magic Talk's Danny Watson he advertised for staff just after the country's level 4 lockdown in 2020.
"I got 547 applicants for two jobs - there was just absolute desperation of people wanting work."
He says he replied to every applicant - which was "very stressful".
But times have changed, and now he's struggling to fill two more jobs having received just 19 applicants in the last two months.
"I've advertised using Seek, Trade Me, Facebook - I even advertised through WINZ and got nothing through that at all."
Michael says he offered three of the 19 applicants jobs - the first person was going to travel from the Bay of Plenty and withdrew when Wellington had a COVID-19 scare in June.
"The other two accepted the jobs and then they come back, saying how excited they are and then they start making demands," he told Watson.
"'I can only work these hours. I can't work weekends', so on and so forth I think they really wanted the job but decided they would call the shots."
But a hospitality worker advocate says calling the shots is exactly what workers should be doing.
Chloe Ann-King has worked in the industry for 16 years and runs the hospitality union Raise the Bar.
She told RNZ on Thursday the issue is not a labour shortage but a wage shortage.
"If employers want to see us coming back into the industry, they're going to have to offer higher wages. They're going to have to offer us working conditions that don't leave us burnt out and feeling like we're subhuman."
She said many job advertisements on websites like Seek and TradeMe call for a high level of skill and experience, yet the pay is on par with that of an entry-level worker.
Michael says he pays his staff above minimum wage and has a number of "extremely happy" staff who have been with his business for quite some time
"But we're a growing cafe, we need more staff!"
Recently released Trade Me figures show a 56 percent increase in hospitality and tourism job listings this year compared to 2020.
King says the increase in jobs means workers are better placed than ever to negotiate.
"They have massive bargaining room at the moment. Supply and demand, right? So we've got a critical labour shortage if they're being offered minimum wage … ask for $25, ask for $27, ask for $30."