Stakeholders in the tourism industry sounded an SOS on Tuesday over the “dire” shortage in both skilled and unskilled workers with the summer season just around the corner.
Hoteliers and caterers said demand for labour is fast outstripping supply. For Limassol alone, the local chamber of commerce and industry forecasts that an extra 7,000 workers will be needed over the next couple of years – but these individuals are extremely hard to find.
Director general of the hoteliers association Zacharias Ioannides told MPs that, with competition from rival tourist markets expected to heat up this year, it is imperative that Cyprus up its game in terms of value-for-money offerings.
In order to achieve that, there is a desperate need for qualified staff especially.
In 2019 Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia are expected to bounce back in a big way as tourist destinations.
During a discussion in parliament, the Association of Owners of Recreation Centres likewise appealed for help, saying it was inconceivable for the single largest industry to be facing a scarcity of workers.
Little progress has been made in tackling the issue since a similar discussion was held a year ago almost to the day.
Hoteliers want the government to relax regulations governing the hiring of foreign college students (non-EU nationals) in the tourism industry.
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 and irrespective of their field of study.
By contrast, in other professions – such as food deliveries or petrol stations – currently college students who are non-EU nationals can work up to 20 hours a week when school is in session, and full time when on vacation.
Relaxing the hiring restrictions on tourism would require a decree to be issued by the minister of labour.
It’s understood, however, that this is stumbling on resistance from labour unions.
Ioannides later told the Cyprus Mail that during the next two years between 2,500 and 3,000 employees would be needed for the casino resort in Limassol. An additional 1,000 job opportunities would arise for the brand-new Park Lane and Amara hotels, plus demand for extra workers in the shipping industry is estimated at 1,500.
“And that’s only for Limassol,” he stressed.
As for Cypriots, they tend to eschew jobs like waiting tables, cleaning and kitchen work because they involve working late hours and because business peaks during the local holidays (mid-August) when most prefer to rest.
Last year MPs had heard that some 7,500 Cypriots were designated as unemployed on government lists (in the tourism sector).
The labour ministry had promised to go through the lists and determine which of these people might be willing to return to work.
They began contacting these individuals in May, but it turned out that the vast majority of interviewees cited one reason or another for not being interested.
It’s believed that many prefer to receive unemployment benefits (for six months) or to work under the table.
Ioannides denied that low salaries are a disincentive.
“No that’s a myth. In reality the salaries offered, even for what we call supporting jobs, are far above the Guaranteed Minimum Income. When it comes to Cypriots, it’s a question of negative attitudes toward this type of work.”
In previous years, he said, somewhat successful efforts were made to plug the gap by hiring EU nationals.
But the rising cost of living is now keeping away this category of prospective job applicant.
“With rents now being so high, particularly in Limassol, people might end up paying a third of their salary for housing,” Ioannides said.