Pacific Islands tourism sector struggling as staff leave under mobility scheme to meet Australia’s worker shortage


Sangeeta Maharaj’s Eden bistro has been a well-known fixture in Fiji’s restaurant scene for locals and tourists for more than a decade.

With a high standard of service and reputation to uphold, Ms Maharaj works hard to train her staff.

Some have been with her nearly as long as the restaurant has been open.

But recently, there has been an “exodus” of workers, which has left her business and others in the area with major staff shortages from one day to the next.

Over the past few months, she has lost four chefs and the majority of her wait staff.

She said most of them have left to work in Australia.

“This scheme of taking workers from here to Australia, it’s so sudden … it’s like an exodus,” Ms Maharaj told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program.

“We’ve had no front of house staff since a month ago. I got resignations on a Thursday, and they stopped coming from Saturday.”

Ms Maharaj supports workers seeking opportunities abroad, but wants the government to consider the programs effect on local businesses.(ABC News: Prianka Srinivasan)

In April, the Australian government expanded the Pacific Australian Labor Mobility Scheme (PALM) to include hospitality, tourism, and aged care in a bid to address critical skills shortages.

The move came as tourism in Fiji was just gaining momentum after reopening from COVID-19 border closures.

On his visit to Fiji last month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spruiked the scheme, telling reporters it was “good for Australia” to help fill workforce gaps, but also “good for our Pacific island neighbours”, especially as it allows more women to participate in the scheme.

However, the move hasn’t been so positive for local businesses with workers abandoning their jobs during peak season.

‘A level that we’ve never seen before’

Shakil Zoro Bhamji used to employ 95 staff across his cafe chain Coffee Hub.

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