Kiwi Hospitality Uniting for Collective ‘Lights Out’

In the grips of a continued staffing crisis, the hospitality industry is preparing for a coordinated ‘lights out’ to make its feelings heard over the Government’s immigration policy.

Today, hospitality business owners are gearing up to stop service and turn their lights out for a period of two minutes at either 11.30am or 7pm.

The event is the latest part of the Reset campaign, a two month-long collective action to remind the Government of the impact hospitality has in New Zealand with three key asks of Government:

  • Provide an urgent additional visa extension for employer-assisted work visa holders currently in New Zealand to allow employers to retain their existing migrant workforce
  • Allow border exceptions for other critical workers from other industries such as hospitality where there is a proven need
  • Extend the number of working hours permitted for those on student visas.

Hospitality businesses across the country are gearing up to participate in the event including Mike Egan, National President of the Restaurant Association and owner of Monsoon Poon in Wellington.

“We want to share with our guests the predicament that all hospitality businesses will be in as we have to go through the lengthy process of trying to renew existing visas. That the symbolic two minutes of ‘lights out’ could be become a reality, where large numbers of hospitality businesses will be forced to either reduce opening hours, which is already happening or to close entirely,” commented Egan.

“The combination of delivering a customer experience with a finished product creates a complex system that requires many skilled hands to perform. This is an industry that cannot be replaced by technology. Our sector has always required a percentage of our team to be drawn from the global hospitality community, they add creativity, expertise and inspiration to our local workforce. The Lights Out initiative will emphasise that without the contribution the hospitality sector adds to the wellbeing of our communities we could be heading to a very dull future.”

Up in Auckland, Auckland branch president of the Restaurant Association and owner of Café Hanoi, XuXu, Saan and Ghost Street, Krishna Botica noted the business had to reduce one service per week for one of the restaurants to allow another to remain open.

“We have made every effort on an ongoing basis to get New Zealanders into our businesses but sadly there are often too many caveats around working hours that can rule out a career in hospitality,” said Botica.

“Retooling the employment pathway of our industry is absolutely something we must do, but this will take time and unfortunately, we can't just 'flick a switch'. Our best response is to flick a switch at our end and highlight to the whole country that this is what their city centres and regions might feel like if we are not able to recruit and retain an overseas workforce in the meantime.”

Restaurateur, Chand Sahrawat will be participating in Lights Out across her three Auckland businesses Cassia, Sidart and Sid at the French Café.

“We have decided to take part in lights out because half our workforce is on some type of visa and they deserve to have some reassurance about their future in New Zealand after working hard with us for so many years,” said Sahrawat.

“We want the government to open up a constructive dialogue with us about the future of the industry and how it can best work for Kiwis and migrants so it can remain the vibrant, inclusive and diverse industry that diners love. We will be talking to our diners on the night so that they understand the need for us to be supported by the government especially as our industry has already been impacted severely by Covid-19.”

Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois expressed that the situation is beyond critical and is seriously impacting our businesses from keeping their doors open.

“With 20,000 workers needed over the next five years in the sector this is a real issue for our industry and we want to work with government to find workable solutions that keep businesses operational,” she said.

“Lights Out is designed to capture the attention of our dining public in a way that gives them an idea of just what our cities look like with hospitality establishments closed for business.”

The petition is live on the parliament petitions website.