The tourist industry should be enjoying the return of visitors now many covid restrictions have been lifted. Instead, they find themselves facing an unexpected problem – a tourism labour shortage.
Italy’s hotels and restaurants are facing a problem, which they did not expect, a shortage of staff. Italy is not alone, their problem echoes that of Britain, the US and Australia. A strange situation considering high percentages of unemployment, especially in the lower age brackets.
Are welfare subsidies hampering economic recovery?
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is looking for a robust rebound from Italy’s deepest recession since World War Two. Tourism, with the help of the digital green certificate, was supposed to lead the way.
Alessandro Massimo Nucara, general director of hotel lobby group Federalberghi, estimates the labour shortage in the sector at around 10%, or 50,000 workers.
With employment data from April showing 33.7% of jobseekers aged between 15 and 24 as unemployed, it seems odd. Moreover, more than 23% of Italians between 15 and 29 are neither in employment, education or training – almost double the EU average for “NEETs”.
The possibility is that with the subsidies brought in during the pandemic, people prefer to stay home and pay rent in another city.
Low pay also a factor?
Italy introduced a basic welfare income scheme in 2019 known as the “citizens’ salary”. That pays around €500 per month. There is a further emergency scheme, which pays up to €840 per family per month.
In March 2021, the government’s statistics showed 2.99million people receiving the citizens’ salary. A further 628,242 families benefit from the emergency scheme, which is in place until at least September.
“The citizen’s salary is stopping young people from getting a job,” former centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter last week.
However, many say the reason for the worker shortage is bad pay and working conditions. The tourism industry, which accounts for around 13% of Italian GDP, has a poor reputation.
Many employees, particularly seasonal workers, complain they are not on the books. This meant when specific covid schemes or ordinary social security benefits were being handed out, they didn’t qualify.
Roberto Sabato leads a rights group for seasonal workers called “Oltre la piazza” (Beyond the Square). According to him, workers are now reassessing their lives following the pandemic. “People now think: The pandemic means I can die tomorrow, and I have spent my whole life as a slave. I don’t want to do this anymore,” Sabato told Reuters.
Problem not limited to Italy
All over Europe, tourism businesses are sounding the alarm. Not only are welfare subsidies to blame, but staff movement into different business sectors.
“There has been a (labour) shortage, which is pretty weird, after seven months of lockdown,” Greek restaurants federation head George Kavvathas said. He also felt a government workers’ support scheme was part of the problem.
A survey in Germany showed some 42% of hotels and restaurants have seen their staff move into other sectors like retail, logistics or hospital canteens.