The hotel industry was bound to face staff shortages after tourist arrivals hit new records in the last two years. With another bumper tourist season starting next week hoteliers have been warning that the local labour market cannot cover their needs and have urged the government to allow them to employ foreign students.
Under current legislation foreign students are allowed to work in the tourism sector only during the summer season – when they have no classes to attend – provided their studies are related to the hospitality industry. Hoteliers have asked that students are allowed to work in hotels throughout the year irrespective of what course they are following.
It seems a strange request considering that most of the colleges foreign students are studying at are in the capital and the hotels are in coastal resorts. How will they attend classes in Nicosia if they are working in a Limassol or Ayia Napa hotel all year round? This could give rise to the old practice through which some colleges would register foreign students who come here to work.
Zacharias Ioannides, general manager of the hoteliers’ association (Pasyxe), explained the extent of the staff shortage. Even if the 7,500 individuals listed as unemployed in the tourism sector are re-hired, as happens every year when all hotels re-open for the tourism season, there will still be a shortage of between 1,000 and 1,500 workers.
Ioannides also explained that the shortages are for secondary and supporting jobs such as cleaning, kitchen duties and low-ranking waiters. As is well known, Cypriots would rather stay unemployed than do these menial, low-paid jobs nowadays. Even when unemployment was at its peak a few years ago, there were still no Cypriots working in petrol stations and the same applies to kitchen work in restaurants and hotels.
This is a consequence of growing affluence that will remain, especially now the recession is behind us. Decisions need to be taken by the government which is reluctant, understandably, to start issuing work permits to foreign workers. Are there enough foreign students here willing to take lowly hotel jobs at least for the peak months of the summer? There may not be enough to cover the needs of the hotels, in which case the government will have to issue permits for foreign workers, regardless of the union opposition.
The government must bear in mind that under-staffed hotels, more often than not, do not offer a good standard of service. Nobody wants dissatisfied hotel guests now that we have managed to attract record numbers of tourists.