Who would have thought that in the time of Covid lockdowns and business closures Cyprus would be experiencing a labour shortage? Employers’ organisations brought up the issue last week, saying most shortages were recorded in the hospitality sector, particularly hotels. It was difficult to comprehend how there could be shortages in hotels, when sizeable proportion of them have been closed since last year because of the pandemic and there was also a drastic decline in tourist arrivals.
One explanation was that many people employed by hotels, had sought employment elsewhere because of the uncertainty plaguing the tourism sector, and the shortness of the tourist season since the outbreak of the pandemic. Another could be that foreign workers who would work in hotels during the tourist season in the pre-Covid period have either returned to their country or had not considered it worthwhile to come here for summer work as had been the case in previous years.
In an attempt to tackle the shortage, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou issued a decree increasing the number of sectors foreign students are allowed to work in. This type of regulation, accompanied by bureaucratic procedures, is done to keep the unions happy, even though defining sectors in which students can work seems unnecessary as there would be no applications for these jobs by locals anyway. All sectors referred to by the minister offer low-paid menial work that neither Cypriots nor EU nationals will do.
Food deliveries, a business which has thrived during the pandemic, would never have taken off if there were no foreign students to do this type of work. There are no Cypriots working on farms, in petrol stations, as kitchen help in restaurants and hotels so was there really any need for the minister to list the sectors in which foreign students can work? But there does not seem to be enough foreign students for all the vacant, low-paid, menial jobs, which is why employers’ organisations have asked that asylum seekers should also be allowed to work in more sectors than those permitted by the ministry.
The lack of workers for menial jobs is nothing new. It is a long-standing problem which will not go away any time soon. Allowing foreign students to work in specific jobs offers a temporary solution, but the matter will eventually have to be addressed more comprehensively, because these shortages will increase in the coming years, as the economy returns to the growth path and the vacancies will not be filled by Cypriots. How the government plans to tackle the problem remains to be seen.