The shortage of qualified workers in the booming tourism sector must be addressed immediately, industry stakeholders said on Tuesday.
During a brainstorming session at the House commerce committee, hoteliers proposed the government relax regulations governing the hiring of foreign college students for the upcoming summer season.
Under current regulations, foreign students are permitted to work in the tourism sector only during the summer season and provided that their studies are related to the field in question.
Hoteliers propose that these students be allowed to work in hotels throughout the year irrespective of their field of study.
This would require a decree to be issued by the minister of labour.
Labour unions oppose the idea, although it’s understood this issue does not fall under the collective agreements rubric.
Officially, the summer season covers the period from April 1 to October 31.
MPs heard that some 7,500 individuals (Cypriot nationals) are currently designated as unemployed on government lists (in the tourism sector).
The labour ministry promised to go through the lists and determine which of these people might be willing to return to work.
Director general of the hoteliers association (Pasyxe) Zacharias Ioannides explained it is highly likely the vast majority of the people now listed as being out of work would return to the industry during the coming summer season.
“We are talking about people who were dismissed at the end of the last summer season, and have since been listed as unemployed, but who are likely to now come back to work for their previous employer,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
But that still leaves a shortage of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 people to occupy secondary and supporting jobs in the business – such as cleaning and kitchen duties, and commis waiters (lower-ranking waiters).
Cypriots tend to eschew such jobs, because they involve working late hours and because business peaks during the local holidays (mid-August) when most prefer to rest, said Ioannides.
He added that the growth of the sector over the last three years has put a strain on hoteliers.
In terms of tourist arrivals, during this period the industry has expanded by around 50 per cent.
The boom has seen a number of new hotel units going up, as well as renovations and expansions to existing hotels.
Stakeholders stressed the urgency of addressing the issue, given that the 2018 summer season is less than two weeks away.
Disy MP Andreas Kyprianou said the problem highlighted the need to expedite passage of legislation creating a dedicated sub-ministry for tourism.
Officials are expecting yet another bumper year after 2017, when a new record was set with 3.6 million tourists.