Where have all the workers gone and will they ever come back?

When a finished restaurant in Manchester announced for a guest reception in July last year, it was shocked to receive 963 applications a day – not 30 or expected.

That used to be. “It’s very different, it’s different now,” said Carol Cairnes, director of people at the restaurant’s owner, D&D London. The 40 eateries got about a tenth of the applicants there were last July on average, and some papers proved difficult to fill out.

“Our chef adverts usually attract about 50 applicants; Nowadays we are lucky if there are five,” he said, adding that of the five, only five or two are eligible to qualify.

Happy arrival of an even more curious development in Covid: a problem of unemployment in rich countries even though millions are still unemployed.

As economists debate the causes and consequences of the event, as well as how long it will last, the rest of us can only wonder how suddenly things will change.

A visible sign of the move is the variety of baits, bonuses and benefits that may have recently occurred to workers at a Covid blood job.

The sunny Australian state of Queensland has just launched a “work in paradise” campaign offers that A $ 1,500 (£ 820) money in addition to subsidized travel to attract workers in the tourism sector burdened by unemployment.

In the US, Amazon offers Sign up for $ 1,500 bonuses – in addition to $ 100 if you are proven to have been vaccinated – and McDonald’s has joined several US groups wage increases for staff.

In London, a restaurant on the corner from my office gives customers £ 100 gift vouchers if they successfully recommend a new hire. Another nearby eatery is offering its staff a bonus of up to £ 2,000 if they do the same thing.

Recruiters are still having a hard time getting recruits. The competition for top applicants is “red hot right now”, according to Neil Carberry, chief executive of the UK Recruitment & Employment Confederation. “I have never seen a market for skilled recruitment consultants like this,” he said last week.

Why is this happening now? One reason: the rapid economic recovery in some areas is pushing up demand for businesses that will all also open up immediately from lockdowns. “Everyone recruits at the same time,” said Tony Wilson, director of the research group at the Institute for Employment Studies in the UK. “That’s very, very unique.”

Could schemes with furlough and pandemic handouts encourage workers to avoid? Experts disagree but are clear that in sectors such as hospitality, people are leaving the industry for nursing homes, supermarkets and other places with better hours and sometimes better salary.

Some countries are increasing pressures that can exacerbate the shortage.

There has been a departure of EU truck drivers from Brexit in the UK, where many industries are relying on workers from across the Channel. Before the UK left the EU in 2020, 72 per cent of D&D London restaurant group staff were from the EU while 6 per cent were from other countries and 22 per cent were British.

Strict border rules are blamed on labor shortages in Australia and also in New Zealand, where a group of dairy farmers warned this month that the stress of the shortage of workers is so severe that it can lead to the loss of “human and animal life”.

For small businesses, the struggle to find staff is even more intense.

“It’s scary,” said Nick Ward, a chef from Brighton in the UK who was so desperate to find workers that he used to pay friends to help him for days. He was far from alone. Moments after speaking last week, he forwarded an urgent text from a catering contact asking if Ward could come and work for him that day, which he couldn’t.

It’s possible to feel great sympathy for those in Ward’s position while also being happy to see people working unaccompanied, unpredictable hours for meager salaries that finally earn more. As Tony Wilson of IES said, some industries have enjoyed the consumer market for the most part in 15 years. “There’s a shift in the balance of power,” he said. It may be temporary but if it only lasts, employers have no choice but to fix it.

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Twitter: @pilitaclark

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