Queenstown business owner blames Government for staff shortage despite not advertising jobs on Seek or TradeMe for months

A Queenstown business owner is blaming the Government for difficulty finding staff despite not advertising the vacant roles on Trade Me or Seek since June.

After a long wait for the return of overseas customers, Lone Star Queenstown owner Dave Gardiner now faces a new hurdle - trying to find staff to meet booming demand.

He said his restaurant only opens at half capacity most days because they don't have the means to serve hungry customers queuing up for a feed.

"They literally are pleading for tables," Gardiner told Ryan Bridge on AM. "I've got all those tables, I've got plenty of tables, I just don't have any staff."

Gardiner said most businesses are shutting two nights a week, opening at half capacity or not opening for lunch to get by with dire staff levels.

"It is devastating after having two years of no customers to be in this situation," Gardiner said.

He said the hospitality industry warned the government of foreseeable staff shortages once our borders open.

"What a time to completely reinvent our immigration settings."

When asked by Bridge on AM whether now was the right time to reform the immigration settings, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the changes, saying there have been thousands of employees accredited and job checks completed. She said they are now seeing individuals coming through and filling those roles.

"The thousands of job checks we are having completed and coming through suggest to me that where there are issues they are being ironed out because we are starting to see those come through," Ardern said. 

The Government’s immigration rebalance, announced in May, requires businesses wishing to hire migrants to be accredited. Businesses must check there are no New Zealanders available for the job before looking offshore and from April 2023, must pay the median wage threshold.

Despite not being able to find staff, Gardiner said he has not had time to get accredited due to covering staff shortages at his restaurant.

In follow-up questions from Newshub around efforts to attract staff and pay rates Gardiner said he only has around 15 staff, whereas usually, he would have 42 workers - half of which would be backpackers.

He said it is like that all around the country, with many other Lone Star franchises in a similar position.

On TradeMe, other Lone Star stores advertising jobs state they are an "Immigration Accredited Employer".

Lone Star Queenstown has not advertised on Seek or TradeMe since June.

Gardiner said since the immigration changes came into place in July it was "pointless" advertising until they have been accredited. 

He said he had no applicants from New Zealand when advertising on Trade Me and around 15 overseas applicants who had to be turned down.

Under the accreditation system, once the advertisement has been up for two weeks, the employer can then apply for a job check which has a list of compliance costs including setting up a structure in the company to bring in the migrant worker. The migrant and some staff members also have to undergo employment relations education courses.

Gardiner is now only advertising locally with signs around Queenstown and through the Lone Star website, which does not state the pay rate or bonuses the job offers, which Gardiner claims includes helping employees with accommodation and rent.

He said for entry-level wait and bar staff, the hourly wage range is around $23.50 to $25, while senior staff and chefs are offered around $27.50 to $32.

"There's just no one around," he said.

Queenstown Lone Star's job advertisement posted on the Lone Star website.
Queenstown Lone Star's job advertisement posted on the Lone Star website. Photo credit: Lone Star

Similar positions in Queenstown posted on Seek list their wage scale for the role and all the bonuses on offer to try and attract much-needed staff.

With a lack of working holiday travellers in Queenstown, employers are getting creative to appeal to potential employees with some offering sign-on and retention bonuses and seasonal ski passes. 

As companies compete for Kiwi workers, Gardiner hopes New Zealand becomes desirable to backpackers again. 

"We haven't sold ourselves to that market, we've actually done the opposite," he said.

Speaking at the Tourism Export Council, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said the country's tourism needed to attract "discerning travellers" and not those travelling on a shoestring.

He said New Zealand won't be directing our marketing efforts at budget visitors who "travel around our country on $10 a day eating two-minute noodles".

"We want the backpackers, we want the youth that travel," Gardiner said.