Owners and workers are putting in long hours at work as school holidays and illness increase pressure on already short-staffed businesses.
Tourist locations are running out of the backpackers they have traditionally depended on as temporary labor, leaving accommodation and tourism business owners stretched thin.
At the rustic cafe in Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury, owners Stacey and Zane Inglis work 12 or 13 hour days, seven days a week.
Stacey Inglis said they ‘shipped the kids to their Nana’ as they covered long shifts from 5am for the duration of the school holidays.
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“It’s been very busy, we try to stay together. Staffing is a huge issue at Hanmer and everyone is short right now.
“Normally we rely on backpackers to fill jobs.”
Zane Inglis said he works as “part chef, part dishwasher”, as well as fulfilling other roles to keep doors open and customers happy.
The cafe has five employees, compared to the normal seven or eight, and some of them have fallen ill.
James Ace, co-owner of Future Hospitality Group which runs five bars and restaurants in Queenstown, said business this school holiday was up around 250 per cent on last month.
The company has about 55 employees and could use a dozen more full-time, Ace said.
“Guys shoot big hours. We made the decision to shut down a business or two for a day, just to give staff a break.
“It’s a cost to the business, but we want to keep them, so we’re moving forward.”
The business was “just crazy” and they were turning away 100 to 150 customers a night, he said.
Hanmer Hospitality Ltd, which has five bars and restaurants in Hanmer Springs, is another company that juggles staff across multiple sites.
Manager Alan McNabb said they sometimes had to close at least one site to ensure the others were adequately staffed.
He said they were already strained with unfilled roles, and now winter sickness and Covid were hitting the staff they had. Some former staffers even came to help, he said.
“We start each day thinking everything is fine, then we have three sick employees. Saturday, we were missing three chefs, in the middle of the school holiday weekend.
“Managers just have to roll up their sleeves, either we have our hands in the sink or we’re pulling pints.”
The loss of the backpacker job market to the pandemic has affected the whole city, he said.
“They came here from somewhere like England, they wanted to work as much as they could for a few months and then they moved on.
“Young Kiwis don’t want to live in a small town or work on weekends. That’s when we’re busy.
The company now pays double staff after 10 p.m. on Saturdays to have enough people for late shifts. They also have accommodation available to try to attract staff.
McNabb said that from a resident population of around 1,000, the city swells to between 4,000 and 5,000 during holiday periods and 6,000 when the city is at its peak.
“Every day is a challenge.”
A Christchurch motel, who did not want to be named, said she and her husband were working “horrendous” hours due to understaffing.
She said they couldn’t find housekeepers despite paying $30 an hour, and because the job was only part-time, they couldn’t recruit from overseas.
“We post a job offer and no one even responds. We struggle and everyone starts to burn out. But our team is working very hard and we are all doing our best.