Posted on January 5, 2007

Balinese Workers In Line To Fill Staff Gaps

Amanda O’Brien, The Australian, January 2, 2007

A Jakarta-based recruitment firm hopes to use a plan to send hundreds of Balinese to Perth to ease staff shortages in the hospitality industry as a template for supplying workers to the mining industry.

The move by PT Mega Global Prima has yet to gain final approval from the Indonesian Government but could see some Balinese chefs, waiters and bar staff arriving in Western Australia as early as next month if permits are obtained.

The plan is strongly backed by the Australian-Indonesian Business Council and was welcomed yesterday by leading Perth restaurateur Kate Lamont, who says thousands of workers are needed to bring the hospitality industry back to full strength.

PT Mega Global Prima’s Leroy Ruhupatty, speaking from his Perth office, told The Australian that the company was well advanced in arranging for workers to come to Western Australia.

“Initially we are focusing on the more urgent need to help overcome the shortage within the WA hospitality industry,” he said. “(But) also we have workers with excellent skills in the trades area such as marine welding, diesel mechanics and heavy equipment that could be placed in the booming northwest resources region of the state.”

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by young workers deserting it for the high wages and conditions offered in the state’s booming resources sector, which is also beset by labour shortages.

Ms Lamont said the skills gap was now so severe that many owners and proprietors had been forced back to waiting tables just to remain open.

“All of my industry colleagues are struggling to attract, let alone retain, staff,” she said.

“It’s the irony of such economic good times in this state that we’re unable to capitalise on the tourism opportunities because we simply don’t have the people on the ground.”

Australian-Indonesian Business Council vice-president Ross Taylor said many Balinese were still suffering from the decline in tourists caused by repeat terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, 88 of them Australians.

He said the prospect of 12 months’ work in Australia would be fantastic for them. He expected 99 per cent would send money back to families still struggling in the aftermath of the bombings.

Organisers expect few problems obtaining one-year skilled migrant visas from the Australian Government but union support is another matter.

Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union state secretary Dave Kelly said low pay and the lack of job security were the reasons the industry couldn’t attract staff.

“At a time of a boom, it should be looking long-term and seeing how it can become more attractive rather than trying to import labour from low-wage economies,” he said. “This is just papering over the cracks.”

Mr Ruhupatty said he was very concerned to ensure the initiative was a “win-win” situation for both the West Australian community and the Balinese workers and their families.