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Opinion: the time has come for the hospitality industry to reassess itself and what it stands for

Through Lorraine ryan and Juliet Mac Mahon, University of Limerick

The hospitality sector is a major contributor to the Irish economy, accounting for 7% of jobs before the pandemic. There is no doubt that this sector has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid crisis. Government health restrictions have resulted in widespread closures and reduced business capacity, causing widespread and significant disruption for employers and workers.

Since the reopening, the sector’s woes have continued, with Fáilte Ireland noting that 90% of hotel organizations are experiencing staff shortages. The impact on businesses has been severe. Many cannot operate at full capacity and close their doors on certain days. Others have made the difficult decision to close permanently.

Various reasons have been put forward to explain the exodus of workers from the sector: Much of the work in the sector is considered to be poorly paid. A 2019 ESRI report noted that 30% of minimum wage workers in Ireland worked in the hospitality industry.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland on major reported staff shortages in the restaurant industry.

Then there is the work itself. While it can be rewarding, working in hotels, bars, and restaurants can also be physically demanding and requires considerable emotional labor. Hours of work can be long and unpredictable, characterized by split shifts and / or constantly changing schedules.

New requirements within the sector since the Covid have added to this workload. Workers now have to deal with additional cleaning measures, verify vaccination certificates and ensure customer compliance with health and safety measures. The reputation of the restaurant industry has not been helped by anecdotal stories of students who were asked to do “trial teams” for free for up to a week and the recent case of a worker paid by a bucket of coins. Many workers are said to have reassessed their lives and chosen to seek work in other sectors or, in the case of migrant workers (on which the sector is heavily dependent), simply to leave Ireland.

The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) has also proved controversial. Research found that the initial payment was 50% higher than the gross weekly wage of the average minimum wage employee in the hospitality industry (€ 232.30). It has been claimed that many low-paid workers prefer to stay on the PUP rather than return to an often difficult, low-paid job.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, a panel discussion on PUP payments and labor shortages in the hospitality sector

So what is the solution ? Industry leaders have called for the abolition of the PUP, but the payment is currently being phased out and it remains to be seen whether this will have an impact on labor shortages. Since shortages were observed before the pandemic, it is possible that recruitment issues are hampering the post-PUP sector. Employers are seeking government support in the form of tax breaks such as a return to lower VAT rates, changes to work permits and visa systems for migrant workers.

While changes demanded by industry may have a short-term impact, they outsource the problem and fail to recognize aspects of the job that make the industry unattractive to many. Maybe leaders need to make an honest base and branch assessment of working conditions across the industry (positive and negative) and consider how to increase sustainability for workers and employers?

Sustainability is a concept normally associated with climate change and the environment, but the sustainable management of human resources is gaining ground. This has been defined as “the adoption of strategies and practices that achieve financial, social and ecological goals, with impact inside and outside the organization and over a long time horizon. term “. The broader social goal implies that organizations integrate elements such as ‘decent work’ into their core policies and Irish organizations, such as An Post, have adopted this as a core strategy.

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RTÉ brainstorm video of low-wage workers who kept Ireland open during pandemic

It is undeniable that the industry operates with tight margins and that wages will never be at the top of the scale. However, some areas to consider include

(i) Discuss with workers and their representative groups to determine the future structure of work in the sector.

(ii) Although fluctuating working hours may work for some groups such as students, greater predictability should be considered for at least some of the workers in order to achieve longer term stability and retention.

(iii) The sector, particularly the hospitality sector, could look at formalized career paths – not just at managerial levels, but for relatively low-skilled workers entering the industry. The potential opportunities for training and career development can increase the attractiveness of the sector despite relatively lower salaries.

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From RTÉ News in 2018, a survey revealed that many hotel and restaurant employees do not receive tips

(iv) It may be time for the industry to reassess the problems associated with low wages and there is already government assistance available. Joint labor committees facilitate wage setting, which can level the playing field for all organizations in the sector. Employers have been reluctant to engage in this process, but it deserves reconsideration.

The hospitality sector is of enormous importance to the economy of Ireland. However, the time has come for the industry to reassess itself and what it stands for. Many of its workers clearly did so during the pandemic. Perhaps a more sustainable approach to human resource management and labor relations can provide some answers.

Dr Lorraine Ryan is a Senior Lecturer in Labor Relations and Human Resources Management in the Department of Work and Employment Studies, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick. She is a former Irish Research Council Fellow. Dr Juliet Mac Mahon is Senior Lecturer in Industrial Relations at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ




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