The latest Level 4 lockdown may be the final nail in the coffin for hospitality workers after 18 months of uncertainty, abusive bosses and customers all while risking their mental and physical health, industry veterans say

After 14 years working in hospitality, wine connoisseur Anna Krykunivsky decided she wanted to prioritise her health this year, dropping her full-time hours to focus on a future in carpentry.

Krykunivsky says she was feeling “massively better” during this lockdown because she felt she had more certainty about her job.

Fluctuating alert levels, job insecurity and the risk of being exposed to Covid took a toll on her mental health last year. 

“When the country was changing alert levels I experienced a lot of anxiety mainly because lots of guests were blasé about following the rules. I overheard a guest telling others on his table he was waiting for his Covid test results, meanwhile he was putting everyone at risk and we had to serve him.”

During Level 2 last year, her employer refused to follow the guidelines and space out tables, making staff feel uncomfortable while serving guests. 

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After enduring a number of toxic work environments, Covid was the last straw and by August last year she says it became clear the hospitality industry did not have the capacity to put her mental health first.

With the government backing apprenticeships to make them free, she decided to take this up and landed a position as a carpentry apprentice with an all-female building crew in May.
Krykunivsky also wants to build her own house one day, and figured learning carpentry would be the best way to accomplish her goal while cutting back her hours in hospitality.

“I’m really happy I decided to do this for myself. I still work in hospitality but in a different way. I don’t rely on it for my entire income. I can pick and choose my energy. I want to prioritise my sleep and nutrition.”

But her love for the industry remains. Driven by her passion for hospitality, Krykunivsky started a non-profit wine tasting club called Welly Somm Club in Wellington for workers to learn more about wine. 

An Auckland bar manager, Lee, feels this lockdown is the final straw for many concerned hospitality workers.

After spending 11 years in the sector, Lee says 2021 would likely be his final year in the industry because this lockdown brought back his concerns about the future of hospitality.

“I don’t know how many bars will be able to make it through this because they’ve been struggling since the first lockdown last year.”

He says his passion for the industry has “dwindled” over the past year and feels his career prospects beyond his present managerial role were slim. 

“The compensation isn’t worth the amount of time and effort you put into it, especially giving up nights and weekends. You have to sacrifice a lot of your life. It doesn’t seem worthwhile for me any more.”

The Level 4 lockdown may be the final nail in the coffin, hospitality workers say. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Lee says his sentiments are shared with others too.

“A lot of the people I know in the industry have either exited or are looking to leave because Covid has really highlighted how unstable our jobs actually are.”

With the unemployment rate falling to 4 percent and a record number of jobs advertised for five months straight according to Seek data, all indicators point to a labour market tipped in favour of job seekers.

Recruiters and employers have also been experiencing strong competition in hiring workers over the last few months. 

But it’s not been so easy for everyone looking to change careers. 

Lee says employers don’t appreciate the soft skills hospitality workers have.

“If I don’t get a job by the end of the year, I’m going to go back to university.”

Christchurch cafe worker Ellsie Coles says news of the nationwide strict Alert Level 4 lockdown resurrected feelings of anxiety from last year.

“I understand lockdown had to be done fast, but it’s significantly harder for people whose pay is not consistent. I was lucky enough to get paid the night we went into lockdown and worked 45 hours last week so had enough money to buy groceries but that’s not the case for everyone.

“I know people who get paid Wednesday/Thursday and they won’t get paid for their hours this week. They’ll have to go without the essentials because they didn’t have enough money to go to the doctors for their prescriptions renewed.”

“A lot of the people I know in the industry have either exited or are looking to leave because Covid has really highlighted how unstable our jobs actually are.”
– Lee, bar manager

Coles says a lot of her friends working at other restaurants are concerned about the security of their jobs.

“My friends are panicking about whether they’ll have a job at the end of the lockdown because many businesses can’t hold on.

“We’re not like office workers who can just work from home. I’ve been calling up people just to check up on them, because many of them are not okay. It’s a very stressful time.”

Coles feels confident she will though, because her employer is a major chain restaurant.

“I feel for the people working at standalone restaurants. Most businesses are operating on bare bones as it is.”

If it weren’t for her managerial position, Coles says she would leave hospitality altogether.

“You’re probably thinking ‘Why are you still doing this job?’. It’s a really dynamic environment and you get to meet so many amazing people. 

“But if I was on minimum wage or at an entry level position I would 100 percent be looking for other jobs.”

“We’re not like office workers who can just work from home. I’ve been calling up people just to check up on them, because many of them are not okay. It’s a very stressful time.”
– Ellsie Coles, cafe worker

Last year, four weeks after lockdown long-time hospitality worker Chloe Ann King quit the industry after 16 years to focus on setting up her union for hospitality workers, Raise the Bar. 

“As it is, I was earning a dollar above the minimum wage for a highly lucrative franchise company. They did everything they were meant to do but it wasn’t enough,” Ann King says.

Four weeks into life after the country’s first lockdown, Ann King decided she had “had enough” of the industry.

“We had all these customers desperate to get back to their local cafes and bars, but the way [customers] treated us was appalling. Before lockdown, customers were dismissive, abusive and rude but it was almost like they had completely forgotten their manners. It was also how drunk they were getting.

“All these people who missed their coffees came out and treated us worse than before Covid. I just had enough, I was done. I decided this is not how I want to live my life.”

She says over the past couple of days since the country moved into Level 4, she has heard of multiple non-essential hospitality workers being asked to go in to work, disregarding offical advice from the Government.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois says it is “disappointing” that workers are wanting to leave the industry because of this lockdown.

“Employers are really concerned about that, we have a skills shortage going on at the moment and our number one priority is to ensure we’re retaining people within our sector,” Bidois says. 

“That’s a conversation I’ve had with employers in the last couple of days. Obviously it’s stressful for business owners but part of the advice we’re giving business owners is to communicate with their teams at the moment.”

Labour shortages have caused many restaurants to be short-staffed, which Bidois says has affected how customers treat workers.

She says restaurant owners have noticed a spike in customer dissatisfaction because of a lack of workers affecting service. 

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