The latest update to the ever-shifting travel restrictions imposed by the Maltese authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 has caused “havoc” in industries reliant on foreign labour, with stakeholders now calling on Government to support the sector by subsidising such workers’ quarantine costs.
Arrivals to Malta must show a recognised vaccine certificate or be forced to spend 14 days in a specific “quarantine hotel” at a cost of €100 a night.
This €1,400 bill, which includes food, is prohibitive for employees coming from the most poplar source markets for foreign labour, which include places like India, Nepal and Pakistan.
AX Group’s director of hospitality Claire Zammit Xuereb, speaking to BusinessNow.mt, says that “unless there is a firm commitment to give accessibility and support to foreign workers, the tourism industry, the very cornerstone of Malta’s economy, will continue to suffer.
“If foreign workers are obliged to quarantine on entry,” she continues, “then it must also be a priority for the Government to support and subsidise financially the quarantine period for foreign workers.”
The tourism and hospitality sector was already in a highly critical staffing situation with most foreign workers returning to their countries as the pandemic settled in for the long haul.
Echoing comments made by other recruitment companies, Ms Zammit Xuereb lamented the collapse in the group’s carefully laid plans to find workers.
“Our HR teams had been working for months on end to secure labour from international markets; plans which have now fizzled into thin air due to the decision of mandatory vaccination.”
The announcement, she says, “caused havoc”.
“We were already in a highly critical situation with the pandemic exodus of foreign workers, and this was the final blow.
“Following the colossal hit of the pandemic, foreign workers – who comprised 70 per cent of our workforce – made their way back to their home nations. Most have not returned.
“These were cleaners, waiters, housekeepers, chefs, representatives and other vital team members.
“Many restaurants, bars, hotels are turning away customers and refusing bookings and as a result we’re heading for serious repercussions, both in the short and long term.”
Ms Zammit Xuereb says the group welcomes the decision of the Maltese health authorities to accept AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in India under the recently amended travel guidelines.
“However, as much as we respect and appreciate all the efforts by the health authorities to keep us safe, it is imperative that there is a more structured approach, with sound contingency plans that mitigate confusion, uncertainty and speculation.”
Earlier this week, recruitment agencies expressed doubt over whether Malta can be attractive to EU workers, who are used to high wages and better perks when working in hospitality.
Ms Zammit Xuereb confirms this, noting that AX Hotels’ efforts to recruit European personnel has proven largely fruitless.
“Other European countries hold much better prospects for potential candidates when compared to Malta,” she says, adding also that it would be “absolutely futile” to focus on bringing in workers whose employment cannot be sustained in the long term.
“It would be greatly irresponsible of employers to drive recruitment when in dire straits, to then terminate employment as soon as more cost effective labour is in sight.”
Expressing her sincere gratitude to the entire AX team “for your passionate spirit, incredible resilience and genuine team spirit”, Ms Zammit Xuereb says everyone from general managers to back office employees to hospitality staff is clocking longer shifts than ever.
“Our entire team is literally exhausted,” she says, and warns that the staffing crisis needs to be addressed “today before tomorrow” to avoid stretching existing resources beyond their limit, which she says would “essentially compromise products and customer service”.
She closes off our discussion with an appeal to all local and foreign nationals looking for a job in hospitality to call AX Group directly on 79377037 or to visit their careers website.
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