Hotels: Labour crunch main stumbling block to hospitality recovery in Malaysia

·6-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 — Hoteliers have urged the government to step in and resolve their recruiting difficulties.

Ever since borders reopened, and with them, the tourism sector, hoteliers said they have faced problems in hiring new workers.

According to a hotelier in Melaka, at some hotels, the lack of manpower has forced the management team to double up as housekeepers and kitchen staff.

“These are my friends in other hotels. That’s the feedback that I received. In the morning, they will be in the office for meetings, and right after that, they are helping with housekeeping and kitchen duties.

“Imagine general managers rolling up their sleeves to change sheets and wash dishes. That’s how bad it has become in some of the hotels here,” the hotelier who requested anonymity told Malay Mail when contacted.

The hotelier said one of the reasons for the lack of hires is a general loss of interest in the hotel industry.

Due to either retrenchment or pay cuts at the height of the pandemic, workers have found jobs in different industries.

“Many of them have gone into the food delivery service, as that sector could pay much more at the time.

“Now when we call them back, they are asking for the same amount that they are earning in the delivery service.

“When our offer can’t match it, they turn us down,” the hotelier said.

The hotelier added that most hotels that have resumed business are still recovering from the loss of income during the last two years since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.

As a result, the hotelier said it was not possible to offer attractive packages to new hires and this was also one of the reasons why hotels were facing problems with hiring.

Where have all the hospitality graduates gone?

At the same time, the hotelier was puzzled as to why the industry lacked workers when hospitality is one of the most sought-after courses in universities and higher learning institutions.

“My question is: where have all the hospitality graduates gone? I’m sure we have graduates, but why are they not in the market looking for jobs?

“This is where the government should step in, to find a solution in matching jobs, or if there is a problem with graduates looking for jobs, to assist them,” the hotelier said.

The hotelier also suggested that the government intervene by guiding graduates from hospitality schools before they leave the country for better offers abroad.

“We have the graduates, but why are they not around? Because they are not taking up the jobs, we have to resort to hiring foreigners.

“We don’t have to depend on foreign workers if the graduates are around to take up the jobs,” the hotelier added.

In addition, the hotelier warned that if the issue were not addressed, it would only get worse, as it was a longstanding problem that stretched back a decade.

“I am a product of hotel schools, and we were prepped thoroughly before we entered the workforce, but what I see today, it is not the same as before.

“Hotels are pinching workers from other hotels and not taking in fresh graduates. Is there something not right with the system?

“Ten years ago, this problem existed, and now, it has grown worse with Covid-19 and that was the reason why hotels had to opt for foreign workers,” said the hotelier.

A need for foreign workers

According to Malaysian Association of Hotels president Datuk N. Subramaniam, there was a need for the government to jump in with aid to help hotels get back on their feet after a long hiatus.

He said at the moment, most hotels cannot afford to offer market salary due to the current recovery period.

“They just can’t afford to offer high wages at the moment until they have recovered. If the government could offer wage subsidies for at least six months, it would help the hotels get back on their feet.

“Then I think this will reduce the problem of a lack of workers,” he said when contacted.

He added that as an immediate solution, industry players has to hire foreign workers, but many hotels that have applied for foreign workers had yet to receive approval from the authorities.

“Although the government has agreed and given the green light for foreign worker hires, we can’t see this reflected on the ground,” he said.

However, he said the hotel industry is expected to gradually recover and realistically speaking, it would take more than a year to return to pre-pandemic levels.

'It may take about a year to recover and we will have to wait, if we want to see occupancy rates go up to 60 to 80 per cent.

“But, currently, the hotels are nearly full because of the Hari Raya festive season. This is due to the opening up of state borders and the relaxation of the SOPs (standard operating procedures) by the government.

“We can only know the real occupancy rate after the festive season is over.

“We have yet to see big numbers of tourists arriving in the country, and one of the reasons could be that our SOPs are confusing.

“The government needs to streamline SOPs across the tourism industry,” he said, indicating among others, several airlines having different types of SOPs.

He said that MAH is also planning to send another memorandum to the government seeking an extension of the wage subsidy scheme for another six months.

Most wanted: Housekeepers

Experiencing similar difficulties, guesthouse owner Sia Gian Heung said cleaners were hard to come by.

“I can still manage for now, but I have not arrived at a situation whereby I need to reduce occupancy.

“Most hotels are in full swing, but guests should expect a delay in check-in time as there is a lack of housekeeping staff at the moment,” said Sia when contacted.

He added that hotels and guesthouses would prefer to stay open fully as much as possible while the market is good.

“The economy is moving, but it is not stable and we don’t know how long this will last.

“So the best thing is to make as much as you can now in case we need to shut again,” he said.

Even the food and beverage business, he said, is only operating at 70 per cent now due to the lack of workers.

He also agreed that the hospitality industry needed foreign workers’ assistance since it was difficult to find local hires.

“There could be too many jobs now; hence, workers are picky. That’s what I have observed.

“Everyone is still looking and monitoring what will happen to the market condition and are not willing to make any long-term plans yet,” he added.

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