Six overseas workers who were not eligible for Federal Government JobKeeper payments during COVID-19 restrictions have been supported by Tathra Hotel owners Cliff Wallace and Sayaka Mihara, as well as the Bega Valley Social Justice Advocates, who sought public donations to help the hotel continue to pay the chefs while they couldn’t work.
“Unfortunately, the government would not include our chefs in the JobKeeper scheme so for the past two months we have been supporting them and their families with much-appreciated help from Mick Brosnan and the Social Justice Advocates, who raised more than $10,000 – wonderful generosity in difficult times,” says Cliff.
A shortage of qualified chefs in Australia led Cliff and Sayaka to sponsor six chefs from overseas this year to staff their hotels. They also own the Sundeck Hotel in Perisher and their staff move between the two hotels depending on need.
“The only way we could stabilise the kitchen was to get workers from overseas,” explains Cliff. “There are fewer apprenticeships and so many more cafes and restaurants opening all the time, which has resulted in a shortage.”
Monday, 1 June was Tathra Hotel’s first day back in business after closing for COVID-19.
“The JobKeeper scheme is there to help businesses reopen as smoothly as possible, and if we hadn’t supported our chefs throughout COVID-19, we wouldn’t have been able to open this week,” says Cliff.
When restrictions began in early March, the Australian Government advised overseas workers and travellers to go home as soon as they could, but Cliff says he didn’t have to think twice about covering their wages until restrictions ended, although his business was going backwards following the past summer’s bushfires and having to close for COVID-19.
“Cliff is the one who really deserves acknowledgment,” says Mick. “He had already decided he was going to support them before we came along and set up the fund to help.”
The chefs, whose home countries include Ireland, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, didn’t want to leave Australia when COVID-19 hit.
“They were set up here with leases, and a few of them have partners and families with them, and some of them actually couldn’t fly home,” says Cliff, adding there are hundreds of workers in the same situation all over Australia.
“I hate to think of people in similar situations in cities,” he says. “I think they were lucky to be here where there is so much community support.
“It would be great if the government now included everyone who has slipped through the cracks in the JobKeeper scheme, given they are only spending half of what they intended on it.”
The government response to overseas workers during COVID-19 was “inhumane”, according to Mick.
“We all know we need these workers,” he says. “We invited them here to work and to turn our backs on them during a crisis is both ignorant and inhumane.”
Mick got to know the chefs when the Social Justice Advocates helped them set up their accommodation when they first arrived. He says they are glad to be back at work.
“I was talking with [worker] Rupert the other day and he said he’s been bored and wanting to work,” says Mick. “On a working visa, you can’t apply for other jobs while sponsored by a particular employer.”
In return for helping the six chefs stay in town, Tathra Hotel guests will be treated to a revamped winter menu featuring tastes of the world.
“The break has been good for us in a way,” says Cliff. “It’s hard to find time to do maintenance or redo menus when you’re open almost every day. We’ve got a lot done and there are a few new menu items we look forward to sharing, such as amazing Sri Lankan curries.”
For more information, check out Tathra Hotel.