Covid 19 coronavirus: Josh Emett’s plea to overseas Kiwi chefs – ‘Come home, I’ll pay some of your airfare’

Celebrity chef Josh Emett is pleading for Kiwi chefs overseas to come home and is offering to pay part of their airfare back to New Zealand.

Emett, who runs popular Auckland restaurants The Oyster Inn and Onslow, says many hospitality businesses in New Zealand are looking for workers.

The problem had first reared its head as New Zealand borders shut due to Covid-19 and migrant workers were locked out.

On Instagram, the well-known chef who is also behind Asian-fusion restaurants Hawker & Roll, Madam Woo and Rata, put a call out for Kiwi chefs overseas to come home.

“Isn’t it about time you headed home? Here are a few reasons,” he wrote.

“It’s summer here in NZ, we are not in lockdown, restaurants are busy, your skills are in demand.

“Send me a DM [direct message] with what you are looking for. I could put some money towards your flight home,” Emett said in the Instagram Story.

Emett told the Herald he constantly had one or two positions that he was looking to fill in his restaurants.

“It isn’t dire straits but it is difficult – it’s difficult to find really good people,” said Emett.

“We’re constantly looking for good staff.”

Along with chefs, other staff such as kitchen porters for simple tasks such as dishwashing were hard to come by at present, he said.

“It’s often a transient worker, someone who comes and travels through New Zealand for a period of time and they are very happy to wash dishes and then move on.”

Emett said there was plenty of Kiwi talent living overseas that normally would not want to come home under normal non-pandemic situations that were now seriously thinking about coming back.

Emett first put out a call for international chefs on Instagram during the middle of last year, and said he found it a good way to attract and recruit staff.

“Friends and other people in the industry share it and it is a great way to find staff. Often we find our best staff by word of mouth and through other colleagues in the industry rather than putting ads out through Seek or other places where everyone is doing the same thing.”

This is the first time Emett has offered to foot some of the bill for returning chefs’ flights. So far he had received inquiries from about a dozen chefs.

“What we’ve subsequently found out that even from somewhere like the UK, the wait to get back into New Zealand is out almost to April at the moment, so even if they do want to come home it isn’t a quick process,” he said.

The New Zealand pool of hospitality staff was “nowhere big enough” to service the market without transient workers, Emett said.

“Right now there is an element of people looking to come back to New Zealand and we are working hard to engage in that and make sure we get the best people coming back.”

Two of the major hospitality industry groups say the industry is grappling with skills shortages across a range of roles, including chefs.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the hospitality industry was already suffering from severe labour shortages prior to the pandemic.

Bidois said regular surveying of Restaurant Association members show there is a lack of New Zealanders applying for hospitality roles, despite operators’ preference to hire locals.

The industry needs to attract 10,000 Kiwis into the sector, she said.

“This is a critical time for our industry. Hospitality has been in growth for more than 10 years and yet we’ve struggled to find the necessary workers to fill the demand.”

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said in a survey conducted during the first lockdown, the majority of commercial operators said they relied on migrant workers.

About 60 per cent of the more than 600 respondents surveyed said that at least 40 per cent of their workforce was made up of migrants.

Hospitality New Zealand’s main focus is training people already in New Zealand, White said.

“With this new variant, our number one concern is just keeping the sector open, keeping the economy moving.”

Both Hospitality New Zealand and the Restaurant Association of New Zealand have partnered with the Ministry of Social Development to launch pilot training programme Springboard, which will offer training opportunities to 200 already-employed hospitality workers.

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