SHORTAGE STRAIN

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
A shortage of willing workers could affect this year’s vintage.
Camera IconA shortage of willing workers could affect this year’s vintage. Credit: Warren Hately/Warren Hately

This year’s vintage is under a cloud as operators in viticulture and hospitality report astonishing worker shortages, despite many residents being out of work or having cut back on their hours.

Federal COVID-19 support measures such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper are potentially among the factors making things tough for businesses firing back into action as WA’s status within the global pandemic remained uncertain.

In March, as the pandemic took hold, the Times reported up to 450 workers would be needed for this season’s pruning — but Vinepower boss David Rankin said precious few residents had put their hands up for the difficult work.

Adding a lack of normal backpacker and Pacific Island labour into the mix meant more workers were needed right now, but “our real concern is summer work”, Mr Rankin said.

“We really thought we’d get more locals interested in pruning,” he said.

“We were surprised how many weren’t interested, for whatever reason.

“I can’t say categorically that JobSeeker is a factor, but maybe it is.”

The vintage outcome was “tough and go,” he said. “We might not have enough backpackers, but maybe we’ll have enough locals who — dare I use the word? — can be forced to go to work.”

Margaret River Wine Association chief executive Amanda Whiteland confirmed “there was no significant increase in interest from the local community for pruning work this season”.

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce president Melissa d’Ath said a lack of workers was undermining the boost from trapped West Aussies heading down south.

“The consensus from the chamber is that while the flood of intrastate visitors is propping up our local economy, the main street upgrade, lack of staff, and still trying to work with the COVID-19 restrictions are straining businesses,” Ms d’Ath said. “From member feedback, they are having to do a lot of extra work themselves as they can’t attract new employees.

“We can only speculate to the reasons behind this — Lack of backpackers in the area or the money on JobKeeper and JobSeeker is making it less attractive to do cleaning, viticulture or hospitality jobs

“Whatever it is, it is creating further strain on business owners themselves.”

Settlers Tavern proprietor Rob Gough said he had reduced the tavern’s hours of operation because of worker shortages, as well as balancing COVID-19 requirements. “There is definitely a staffing shortage throughout the region,” he said.

“As a result of COVID-19, we lost many working holidaymakers and temporary visa holders who had to leave the country. The hospitality and the wine industries both rely on transient workers during seasonal fluctuations, and this was particularly pertinent during the recent school holidays.”

Mr Rankin said backpacker numbers were down, but some trapped travellers were keen for the work — and didn’t want to go home.

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