Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Greece struggles to find tourism workers due to risk of further blockades

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After a decade working abroad, Chief Nikolas Tsimidakis returned home from Dubai last year in the hope that Greece’s eventual recovery from the pandemic and increased Mediterranean tourism would allow him to land a good job.

Like many others, he was disappointed. As the new blockades delayed the reopening of Greece and the start of the tourist season, Tsimidakis struggled to find a job that offered security and a decent salary. Reluctantly, he decided to return to the Gulf after finding a high-paying job in Abu Dhabi.

“I had two [job] offers[in Greece]. . . But no one could tell me when the hotel would open or for how long, ”Tsimidakis said.

Decisions like yours explain why Greece now suffers from a tourism labor shortage. The sector typically accounts for a fifth of economic output, but is struggling to prepare for the vital summer season as potential candidates for restaurant and bar jobs are deterred by the risk that renewed Covid-19 restrictions close deals.

The problem threatens to seriously affect the country’s recovery from the pandemic, given the central importance of tourism to the economy. “This is the first time that we have faced such a shortage in the industry,” said George Kavathas, president of Greece’s federation of restaurants and allied professions.

Chef Nikolas Tsimidakis got a job in Abu Dhabi because employment options in Greece were too uncertain © Nikolas Tsimidakis

Many other countries, such as Germany, have also struggled to recruit bar and restaurant staff as the pandemic subsided. The difference with Greece is the relative size and economic weight of the sector.

It usually employs more than 432,000 people, or 10 percent of the national workforce, proportionally almost double that of Spain. So any problem can have macroeconomic implications.

HSBC has forecast that the return of tourism as a whole would boost Greek growth by two percentage points this year, after accounting for two-thirds of last year’s drop of more than 8% in gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, Christos Staikouras, the finance minister, predicted that tourism receipts would reach 8 billion euros in 2021, less than half of the 18 billion euros in 2019, but double the fall from the pandemic of the year. last when industry revenue collapsed to € 4 billion.

But economists are now warning that a labor shortage, despite Greece’s 16.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU, could dampen economic growth and hurt those income and economic projections.

Psarou Beach in Mykonos gears up for the delayed summer tourist season © Byron Smith / Getty Images

“The main sectors that generate employment. . . such as tourism, retail and entertainment are affected by uncertainty, ”said Nikos Vettas, CEO of IOBE, a group of economic experts. “It is unclear how quickly they will return to pre-Covid levels.”

Hercules Zisimopoulos, a bar, hotel and restaurant owner who also runs a local tourism industry group on the party island of Mykonos, blamed the repeated cycle of closed closures and easing of restrictions for dissuading workers from returning. to fill their jobs.

“The constant opening and closing of restaurants and bars over the past year has created great uncertainty and employees fear that we will be forced to close again,” he said. “That is why they are looking for other types of jobs,” as delivery men.

The problem is compounded by an oversupply of mediocre cafes, bars and restaurants that do not offer attractive job prospects. After the financial crisis, the hospitality industry served as a buffer for many who were jobless or low-skilled.

Lefteris Lazarou, a Michelin star chef, is struggling to fill what are generally coveted jobs at Varoulko, his restaurant in Piraeus.

Up to 92 percent of all new businesses that opened between 2010 and 2020 were in the food and beverage sector, Kavathas has calculated, leading to a lengthy oversupply crisis that came to a head during the pandemic.

“People think it’s an easy profession, that anyone can open a cafe, but that’s not true,” Kavathas said. “The excess supply. . . It hurts everyone, as quality drops and limited profits are shared by more. . . What we see now is the tip of the iceberg. “

Some restaurateurs say government policies to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 have made the problem worse. Allowances paid to employees whose restaurants and bars are closed are still being offered, as meals inside have not yet been allowed to resume.

GDP line chart, readjusted (2019 = 100) showing Greece's pandemic recovery underperforming eurozone average

Many workers now prefer to live off their state grant of 534 euros a month, rather than working in a restaurant where salaries start at about 850 euros a month, restaurateurs say. The subsidy scheme has cost the government nearly a billion euros since the pandemic began.

“Many have become complacent because of the benefits they are making and are not looking for work,” said restaurant and bar owner Nektarios Nikolopoulos, who lives in Athens and on the island of Serifos.

Others see the staff shortage as a symptom of broader problems in Greek labor markets.

The country’s decade-long economic crisis led to lower wages that have yet to be recovered, youth unemployment that is among the highest in Europe, and the emigration of many skilled workers, such as Chef Tsimidakis.

The staff shortage is “a sign of dysfunction in the labor market,” said Vettas, who blamed “too many regulations” for making employment in Greece “inflexible.”

Meanwhile, even the most famous places in Greece are worried.

Lefteris Lazarou, a Michelin-starred chef, said this summer season was the first in 35 years that his renowned Varoulko restaurant, on the Piraeus seafront outside Athens, had struggled to fill the 76 seats. of your staff, which are generally taken in a flash.

“Every year my inbox was so full of resumes from people who wanted to work here that I couldn’t go through them,” he said. “Now, I don’t have one.”

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