Sarawak’s hospitality sector facing 40% staff shortage

SIBU: The hospitality industry in Sarawak is facing up to 40% in shortage of staff and this problem may become a permanent one, says Malaysia Association of Hotels Sarawak chairman John Teo.

“In Sarawak, our hospitality industry is facing a staff shortage by at least 40%. We can’t find replacements for those who have left the industry.

“This shortage can last between one and three years or it may also become a permanent one,” he said, adding that this was partly due to locals preferring to work in Singapore.

“In Singapore, a chef can command a salary of S$4,000 to S$5,000 (RM12,800 to RM16,000) while food and accommodation are also provided. In Sarawak, a chef can only earn between RM4,000 and RM5,000,” he said.

Teo said his friend operating a Japanese restaurant in Singapore was even willing to pay over RM11,000 for a dishwasher and between S$3,000 and S$3,800 (RM9,600 to RM12,160) for an experienced waiter.

He said about 50% of hospitality staff were laid off in the state during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom were not eager to come back.

“I know of chefs who, after being retrenched, started their own business from home. They have regular customers and are happy with such arrangements as they can also be with their family,” he said.

In Ipoh, Malaysia Association of Hotels Perak chairman Vincent Ee said there were about 2,000 vacancies, including spots for housekeeping, and frontdesk and kitchen staff, in establishments in the state.

“The most urgent is for housekeeping. We have 68 members and most are looking to hire at least three workers for housekeeping,” he said.

“Then, there are hotels with about 200 rooms, so having only a handful of workers is an issue. We are all under pressure and trying to provide services as per pre-Covid-19 times,” he said, adding that some hotels were sourcing workforce from other departments.

“I know of some hotel general managers having to work overtime as a receptionist,” he said, adding that as a short-term measure, it was collaborating with some colleges for apprentices or trainees doing their practical training.

“Over the course of two weeks, if they are good, hotels will take them in as permanent staff.

“Another short-term measure is to hire part-timers, especially those waiting for their SPM results.

“But once the results are out, they will leave and continue with their tertiary studies,” Ee said, urging single mothers, as well as those in the B40 group and in rural areas to consider working in the hospitality industry.

State tourism committee chairman Datuk Nolee Ashilin Mohammed Radzi said the government had voiced the issue of manpower shortage to the Federal Government.

“The state has always taken proactive action, including holding career fairs with direct interviews by participating players from the tourism industry.

“We will continue with our training programmes with certified partners for the hospitality industry,” she said.

In Kuantan, Pajan Singh, the owner of Veer Hotel and Charisma Hotel here, said the new batch of workers could not take it most of the time when asked to clean dirty rooms.

“Sometimes, they will call in sick or just don’t show up for work after getting their pay,” he said.

He is proposing that students from institutions of higher learning work for understaffed industries and be given a special allowance by the government.

“Another solution is perhaps getting workers from other states,” said Pajan, who is also the Pahang chairman of the Malaysia Budget and Business Hotel Association.

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