Hospo Voice

Covid devastated us: The past, present and future of hospo.

November 23, 2020

The past, present and future of hospitality

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews just announced a $5mil scheme to provide sick and carers leave for casual workers in Victoria. This is a big step in the right direction! Too often hospo workers go to work when they’re sick because they can’t afford not to. This scheme protects not only workers, but their colleagues and customers.

We all know that hospo workers are some of the most financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve lost our jobs, struggled to find income and now that things are returning to ‘normal’, we’re rushed off our feet to cope with demand. But what does this mean for the future of hospitality and are there any silver linings? Let’s take a look.

The past

What happened during lockdown?

Did you know that 82% of hospo workers reported wage theft in their current or previous hospitality job? It’s a horrific statistic and there are dozens more like it in our Rebuild Hospo report, published earlier this month. Then when the pandemic hit us in March, 85% of us had our hours cut or weren’t working at all. 58% of us completely lost our jobs or were stood down.

Thanks to all that wage theft, almost half of us didn’t have enough money for a month of basic living expenses like food or rent. We had to swallow our pride and ask for cash from friends or family, access our super early and even go without food just to get by.

On our I Lost My Hospo Shift website, we received thousands of stories from worried hospo workers. People like Walter:

“No shifts no money
Need a roof over my head
Need power need food
Stressed anxiety”

And Alex, who didn’t get any government support:

“I truly feel like I’ve been forgotten in all the madness while struggling to keep food in and a roof over me and my Australian fiancee’s head.”

What about Jobkeeper?

Some of us were lucky enough to keep employment or receive government support after unions successfully campaigned to win JobKeeper.  Except for some hospo workers, the payment seemed to come with strings attached.

According to NSW cook and Hospo Voice member Liam Douglas, some of dodgy employers used it to exploit workers.

“I’ve heard there were expectations put on staff members, they were told: ‘you’re receiving these payments from the government and you need to work for it.’”

Pretty shocking, huh.

The Present

The new ‘COVID normal’

So now we’re in a new normal. Most restaurants and bars are open and thanks to border restrictions and a lack of overseas workers, some hospitality venues are busier than ever. What does that mean for us workers?

For people like Liam, the initial reopening was pretty overwhelming.

“There was a new level of expectation that just got pushed onto the staff. We were expected to work with a whole new level of standards, extra cleaning jobs, extra hours if you were on Jobkeeper…. We were getting pumped with no extra resources for it.”

Where have all the hospo workers gone?

Are you feeling run off your feet? Does it feel like there is less staff these days? Yeah, you’re not wrong… There are a few reasons:

  1. Fewer migrant workers and summer backpackers. Lots of overseas workers left during the pandemic because they had no income and no support. With borders still closed, no new workers are coming in to take their place.
  2. Heaps of businesses just aren’t making as much money as before so they’re expecting workers to pick up the slack and work harder.
  3. The pandemic highlighted huge problems in the industry. People know their worth and aren’t going to work for peanuts anymore. Lots of people moved into different industries and stayed there for better pay or conditions.  

But what it highlighted for the rest of us is that we need better pay and conditions for hospo workers, right?!

The Future

At Hospo Voice, we’ve seen our membership increase by 76% since February. Hospo workers are ready to have big conversations around the future of hospitality and we’re here to help. So, what do we want? Here is our vision for the Post-COVID roadmap to #RebuildHospo:

  1. End insecure work by reducing casualisation and winning secure and sustainable jobs.
  2. Criminalise and eradicate wage theft across Australia.
  3. A safe and respectful hospitality industry.
  4. End the “permanently temporary” underclass of migrant workers in hospo.

The hospitality industry is a vital part of Australia’s economic future. People are coming back to their favourite pubs and restaurants and demand will grow.

It’s an exciting industry and one that so many of us love with a deep passion. But we have to admit that it’s deeply flawed, and is in desperate need of a revamp.

Now is the time to make our working lives better, not just for us but for all the people who will work in hospo in the future.

I guess what we wanna know is … are you with us?

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