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‘Too few cooks’: Chefs demand cuts to visa red tape

For leading restaurants weighed down by restrictive and inefficient visa regulations, it may be a case of too few cooks spoil the broth.

Chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan said a shortage of chefs and waitstaff in the hospitality industry made businesses such as his reliant on foreign workers.

This included South Korean chef Carlos Byeon, who is among a quarter of the staff at the flagship Glass Brasserie on a temporary work visa.

But Mr Mangan said delays in the processing of temporary work visas under the present system were at odds with the rapid pace of his work. “When we need staff, we need them now – and not after three to six months,” he said.

The restaurateur is among several industry leaders who have welcomed the government’s pledge to cut bureaucratic red tape, and advanced their proposal for where it should start.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged on Monday to slash “excessive or outdated regulation” in a bid to encourage investment, and challenged businesses to submit their case for change.

For luxury hotel group Baillie Lodges, the difficulty of staffing kitchens – especially in remote locations like Lord Howe Island – was exacerbated by the rate at which visa laws and regulations change.

“It takes 12 months to understand the policy, and then it changes again,” said general manager Craig Bradbery.

The 457 temporary skilled work visa was abolished in March 2018 and partially replaced by the 482 visa, which covers roughly 200 fewer jobs than its predecessor.

Mr Bradbery said the change came with a host of additional fees and applications including a Skilling Australians Fund levy, which could reach $7200 per worker for businesses with an annual turnover exceeding $10 million.

Baillie Lodges hired migration agents to help navigate the process but found that it was nonetheless rare that they could fill a vacancy within six months, which was a problem for a service business.

“We operate in a fast-paced industry. It’s crucial that we have staff on the ground to serve our guests. Simple as that,” Mr Bradbery said.

Mentorship programs
Restaurateurs said the 485 visa for qualified graduates – on which Mr Byeon had come to Australia – helped fill the skill gap but it was insufficient.

Nino Zoccali, who owns the Restaurant Pendolino and La Rosa in Sydney, said he had been struggling to fill vacancies for restaurant managers and cooks.

Unlike chefs, who typically have seven years of experience including three years in a supervisory role, cooks and managers cannot apply for a medium-stream 482 visa to work in a metropolitan area. This means they cannot receive a four-year visa with a pathway to permanent residency.

Mr Zoccali said news of the restrictive visa policies had spread overseas and applications for cooking and managerial roles had plummeted.

“Serious people don’t pick up their lives for a two-year visa [with the opportunity for renewal] … We can’t fill these roles. I have senior management that are besides themselves,” he said.

Mr Mangan said work on reducing red tape was welcome but ultimately, there was no substitute for investing in local talent. This is why he had founded teaching and mentorship programs like the Inspired Series for hospitality students and the Appetite For Excellence program for young professionals.

“The bottom line is that we want to employ Australians first,” he said.