Italy has eased coronavirus restrictions and tourists have started to visit the country, but restaurants and hotels face an unexpected problem as they cannot find staff.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s unity government is counting on a solid rebound from last year’s recession, Italy’s deepest since World War II, and counting on tourism – helped by the new COVID pass – EU 19 – to lead the way this summer.
But emerging recruitment challenges, echoing reports of chronic labor shortages in hospitality industries in the US, UK and Australia, could hamper prospects for recovery in Italy and the UK. whole euro area.
“We are in trouble,” said Stefano Giuliodori, who is struggling to hire 12 waiters and maids for his hotel in the Adriatic resort of Riccione.
“We are expecting a lot of visitors and we absolutely need staff, but it has become really difficult to find someone.”
Alessandro Massimo Nucara, managing director of the hotel lobby group Federalberghi, estimates the labor shortage in the sector at around 10%, or 50,000 workers.
Employment data suggests that young Italians should desperately want to work. In April, 33.7% of job seekers aged 15 to 24 were unemployed, one of the highest rates in the European Union.
In addition, more than 23% of Italians between 15 and 29 have no job, no education or training – almost double the European average for “NEETs” and by far the highest in the bloc of 27 countries.
Giuliodori, who offers net monthly salaries of around 1,200 euros ($ 1,430), believes part of the problem lies in social benefits, some introduced before COVID-19 arrived in an attempt to prevent families fall into poverty.
“With all these subsidies, people would rather not leave their hometown, pay rent and stay with their families doing odd jobs,” Giuliodori said.
Most of Riccione’s seasonal workers come from outside the region, which means they have to find board and lodging, which represents an income that can be well below the roughly 20,000 euros per year, according to Eurostat , which is average for a single Italian with no children.
A basic social protection scheme put in place in 2019 pays job seekers around 500 euros per month. A separate emergency scheme for people hard hit by the pandemic but who were not entitled to the so-called “citizen’s salary” pays up to 840 euros per family.
Official statistics show that in March 2021, 2.99 million people were receiving citizens’ wages, while 628,242 families were on the emergency scheme, which lasts until at least September.
“Citizen’s salary prevents young people from finding jobs,” former center-left prime minister Matteo Renzi said last week on Twitter, calling for money to be diverted to reduce corporate tax and the cost of hiring.
However, many argue that the labor shortage is not due to social benefits, but to poor wages and working conditions.
The tourism industry, which accounts for around 13% of Italy’s GDP, has a particularly bad reputation.
Employees complain that they are often paid in cash, without the formal employment status necessary to qualify for regular social security benefits and the specific COVID-19 plans they might need if infections rise again.
Giuseppe, from Catania in Sicily, who did not want to give his last name, said he had worked in pizzerias for 10 years but was fed up with never having a proper contract .
“Everything was in cash. Thirty euros to work from early afternoon until late at night,” he said. “If they want to find more workers, they will have to offer regular contracts.”
Roberto Sabato, who heads a seasonal workers’ rights group called ‘Oltre la piazza’ (Beyond the Square), says the pandemic has led workers like him to reassess their lives.
“People are now thinking: the pandemic means I can die tomorrow, and I’ve spent my whole life as a slave. I don’t want to do this anymore,” Sabato told Reuters.
NOT ONLY ITALY
Businesses have also sounded the alarm over labor shortages in other European countries, notably Germany and Greece, which depend on tourism.
“There has been a shortage (of manpower), which is quite strange, after a seven-month lockdown,” Greece Restaurant Federation president George Kavvathas said, adding that a support program to government workers was part of the problem.
In Germany, some 30% of the thousands of hospitality businesses that did not reopen in June after the closures eased cited staff shortages as the reason, the German Association of Hotels and Restaurants said.
In Italy, the coronavirus has forced several-month closures for bars, restaurants and hotels, with one in four jobs in the sector lost in 2020, according to hotel and hotel associations. There are now fears that some workers will never return.
“Many of those who worked in tourism have found another type of work,” said Marco Fontanari, restaurateur and deputy head of the Confcommercio business lobby in the northern province of Trentino.
A survey in Germany showed that around 42% of hotels and restaurants saw their staff move to other sectors such as retail, logistics or hospital canteens.
With the circulation of COVID-19 variants, Fontanari said fear of future lockdowns made people reluctant to return.
“They say that rather than giving up the stability of social security systems, they would rather wait and see what happens.”