Labour-starved Australian state offers cash to 'work in paradise'

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk offered A$1,750 to anyone who moves there and starts a job in the tourism sector. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Facing a pandemic-induced labour shortage, one sun-drenched Australian state on Thursday (May 20) began offering a bundle of cash to anyone willing to "work in paradise".

Across Australia, long-reopened bars, shops and restaurants have struggled with vacancies usually filled by throngs of foreign backpackers who flock Down Under.

But border closures have turned off that spigot, and "help wanted" signs are now a common sight in tourist towns up and down the east coast.

Countrywide, job vacancies are up almost 30 per cent since the pandemic began, according to government statistics.

The unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 per cent in April, even as the government ended unprecedented wage subsidies, and the economy is predicted to reach full employment next year.

In Queensland, the problem has become so acute that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday offered A$1,750 (S$1,800) to anyone who moves there and starts a job in the tourism sector.

"We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world," she said launching the programme.

"This campaign will give Queenslanders and other Australians even more reasons to come to work in paradise.

"From chefs, waiters and bartenders through to tour guides and deckhands on the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of great jobs up for grabs."

Before the pandemic began, up to 1.1 million short-term visitors arrived in Australia each month. That figure is now close to 8,000.

With borders predicted to remain closed for another year and domestic tourism resurgent, analysts predict the problem could get worse.

In Western Australia, several mining companies have warned production will have to be cut and profits will be hit because posts are not being filled.

On Thursday, the Virgin Australia airline group announced a recruitment drive to fill hundreds of new jobs and the launch of 700 more flights every week.

Although the problem has been made more acute by Australia's almost total border closure, economists predict other countries will face similar problems as the process of rolling back restrictions quickens.

In the United States, Federal Reserve officials have warned of "bottlenecks" in the labour market as the economy transitions back to normal.

ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner this month warned the New Zealand economy was starting to show strains "as the economy tries to grow faster than it physically can given shortages of both goods and labour".

In Russia, the construction sector - which usually relies on a stream of cheaper migrant labourers - has turned to more expensive workers from Russia's regions.

There are small signs that Australian employers are beginning to pay more to attract workers, with the wage price index rising 0.6 per cent in the first quarter.

But many appear to still be cautious after the biggest economic shock in decades.

"Wages growth should lift from here," said NAB Markets Research economist Taylor Nugent.

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