Hotels face staff shortages as second record year expected

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By Stelios Orphanides

While Cyprus’s hospitality industry is preparing for another record in tourist arrivals, it is also facing a shortage of skilled labour which forces hotels to poach staff from other units, something unions describe as a by-product of opportunistic practices of the past.

While unions and employers agreed last year to renew collective agreement stipulating employment terms in the hospitality industry, a major employer and exporter of services, only a minority of the workers in the hotel sector enjoys the full benefits, representatives of PEO and SEK, Cyprus’s main private sector unions, said in telephone interviews on Monday.

Tourists“In recent years, hotels fired experienced workers who were employed in accordance with the provisions of the collective agreement and replaced them with unskilled workers, and also hired workers from other European Union countries,” Lefteris Georgiades, who heads PEO’s hospitality sector division, said.

“As a result, they gained such a bad reputation as employers, that they cannot even find EU workers any more. They invested in cheap labour which has now backfired”.

“In recent years, mainly after 2013, hotels hired virtually no worker in compliance to the terms of the collective agreement,” Miltiades Miltiadou, head of the hospitality division at SEK said.

He added that employers preferred to hire staff based on personal contracts even after unions consented to pay cuts following the banking crisis.

Last year, when Cyprus attracted 3.2m tourists, an all-time record, the number of workers employed in the hospitality industry, i.e. hotels and restaurants, rose 13 per cent to 33,192, which was also an all-time high, Cystat figures show.

The increase in employment levels in the hospitality industry came as Cyprus’s unemployment rate dropped last year to 13 per cent from 14.9 per cent in 2015.

“There is a problem; there are not enough skilled workers,” Zacharias Ioannides, the director general of the Cyprus Hotel Association (CHA), said in a telephone interview.

tourist dataCystat figures show that the increase in employment levels in the industry was also accompanied by an increase in the number of unemployed workers in hotels and restaurants last year. In fact, their number rose 11 per cent to 9,233 in 2016. This does not mean necessarily that they are all skilled. “According to the statistical methodology applied in the EU, a jobless person is listed as such in the category of his last occupation,” a Cystat official explained. This rule applies regardless of skills, specialisation or previous working experience.

“What worries me is that the impression is given that there are unemployed skilled workers out there and we don’t hire them,” CHA’s Ioannides said.

Georgiades, the PEO official, said that conditions in recent years favoured a “systematic violation” of the employment terms negotiated with the unions. As a result, staff may earn as little as €600 a month as seasonal workers, which in turn ensures that interest in making a career in the business remains limited. “If workers have a choice, they will opt in favour of spending their evenings and weekends with their families when family-unfriendly workhours are not adequately rewarded”.

Miltiadou said that the unions are not seeking at this point to re-negotiate existing agreements to ensure that hotel workers get pay rises. “What we are telling employers is to apply the terms,” he continued.

tourists boatBoth union officials said that they do not necessarily consider it a good sign that hotels resort to luring workers employed at competing units with more attractive employment terms to cover their own staffing needs. “The market will address distortions but this is not healthy,” Miltiadou added.

“Pay increases in this way but it leads to unfair competition,” his colleague Georgiades said.

Chrisemily Psilogeni-Kenevezou, who manages the affairs of the Association of Cyprus Tourist Enterprises (ACTE) which represents hotels and other tourism related companies, said that the hospitality industry cannot “rely on opportunistic hiring of workers with limited or no skills”.

Her business group has therefore launched an information campaign to encourage young people work in hospitality by convincing them that “working in tourism does offer career advancement prospects” and so, help cover future needs in the hotel industry with skilled workers. Youth unemployment stood at 29 per cent last year.

“ACTE has set up a team of human resource experts, specialised in current and future needs of the tourist industry,” she said. “The team has prepared various proposals to prepare a plan that will be looking in to the industry’s needs in the long run”.

The CHA which is preparing for more business this year and is expanding its bed-capacity, also took action with a more short-term scope.

“We encouraged hospitality workers to send in their curriculum vitae (CV), Ioannides said. “We are witnessing an increase in the infrastructure of tourist profession schools,” he said. “But our members are not waiting for someone to tell them that they have to improve employment terms”.

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About Author

Stelios Orphanides is a journalist at CyprusBusinessMail.com. To contact Stelios Orphanides: [email protected]

  • Mist

    It’s beneath some to serve. Little princes’ and princesses don’t have to do the work of Cinderella or mere minions.

    • cypbychoice

      Would you work 14 hours 6 days a week for peanuts ?

  • Colin Evans

    Does this mean that the hotels will now have to pay a living wage and actually pay it?

    • Philippos

      No it does not. It will be promised and never paid. Excuses will be used, such as “I don’t even have enough money to buy myself any cigars”

      • Banjo

        Cigars are exceptionally well priced here. I can get one for €2 here that costs £9.60 in London.

        • Brian Whiffen

          Keo is available in the UK but its not the same, much of i’m told is brewed on the continent

          • Banjo

            Yes it’s available, but only in very few stores and in small quantity.

            I thought it tasted different in the Uk due to the lack of accompanying sunshine:)

          • Brian Whiffen

            I have not had a problem with bottles I get them from Tesco

          • Banjo

            I believe Mrs Banjo shops at Waitrose or Sainsbury’s. When we get back in July , I’ll dispatch her to Tesco.

          • Neroli

            They all taste different wherever they’re are brewed, it depends on the water. Have you had it Guinness in Ireland, it tastes so different

        • Neroli

          Who wants Keo anyway, I would rather have Black Sheep!!

          • Banjo

            Is that a drink reference or a different kind of reference altogether…… I’m not familiar to a drink called black sheep.

          • Neroli

            A Yorkshire ale!

          • Banjo

            Does that mean it’s brown … and warm.

          • Neroli

            Nooooo you don’t drink it warm!

        • Philippos

          That’s what come from being friends with Cuba, comrade. however I don’t know if that makes it better or worse!

    • cypbychoice

      No bloody chance, they will carry on ripping off the clients and the staff more so the staff

  • charlie

    Only in Cyprus one calls offering better salaries to attract workers, “unfair competition”…(especially as the “better” salary is 800 instead of 600…greedy bas+ards…)
    Unbelievable, as this country economy survives only thanks to monopolies and thwarted competition.

  • Happyshopper

    I know a number of employees who were on “Personal Contracts” with uncertainty over starting dates this year and virtually no benefits while they were “off contract” over the Winter months. No wonder they are seeking employment elsewhere. Sad to say it would appear that the worst offenders run the swankiest hotels.

    • Philippos

      Not so, in some places the Owners are just horrible, greedy grubby uneducated oafs who owe the Banks lots of money.

  • Philippos

    “The Market will address distortions but this is not healthy” for whom may I ask ? the Employers? If you don’t even pay peanuts you won’t even get monkeys. The dismal conditions, the lack of union support for EU Workers, the waste of good qualifications of many EU workers etc etc and just total domination by greedy Employers has killed the supply of EU Member States workers. Further, the customers notice the downgrade too. A friend of mine who was a waiter 25 years ago earned CYP 1000 per month, and EU worker today might earn EUR 600, a THIRD. Cyprus Tourism sucks, its now only good for lower class Russians displaced from Egypt and Turkey and a smattering of bargain basement tourists from elsewhere. Gone are the days of middle class tourists from Northern Europe…and you can see why. Its become grubby, run down and tired and only continues due to Arab Extremism

    • John Rose

      Very true

  • Frustrated

    My experience with the Cypriot tourist ‘product’ goes back decades to the era of 1970s Famagusta to the present day. During yesteryear it WAS quality and was reflected not only with the type of visitor but also the level of professionalism within the hotel industry.

    This has all but disappeared and, as Philippos has so rightly written on this thread, is a shadow of its former glory and is now mostly dominated by greed and the cutting of corners by the hotel proprietors. Hotel employees are treated like serfs and the expertise of a great many of the so-called managers leaves a lot to be desired with many only in post due to family connections to the owners and little else.

    Staff very often have to double up, triple up or worse when it comes to the tasks they have to perform and have to remain at their jobs well after their shifts have finished. Invariably overtime is never acknowledged let alone ever paid. As for the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and the sort of people they employ, that’s another subject in itself.
    As with other aspects of governance on the island, Until and unless the basic mindset drastically changes, the sector will stumble along regardless with hotel staff having to bear the brunt of ineffective, ruthgless management who peddle a modern version of slavery.

    For the record, I’m not some card-carrying communist but in my time have founded and run several companies.

    • Slomi

      True.

    • cypbychoice

      I could have not said it better, and you have only just touched on the s**t they throw on the staff

  • Mike Bruce

    many hotel staff i know are in different jobs earning over 1.200 euros a month
    compared 650 – 700 that hotels pay, also hotels won’t agree to union pay schemes
    and perks, so they have to stick with cheap labour,,,,,,even they don’t want to work
    15 hours a day for peanuts.

  • Banjo

    Tourists will always flock to Cyprus, the natural beauty and sheer wonderment of the place will guarantee that any inadequacy by hotels etc will be far outweighed.

    The more badly run hotels in terms of staff payment and conditions will be left behind and one after the other , go out of business. If staff pay were advertised to customers, some would not receive any bookings. Nobody is happy to go on holiday to a place of exploitation.

  • Vladimir

    I like his phrase: ‘They invested in cheap labour which has now backfired’ which from my POV looks like they didn’t invest but reduced costs by replacing experienced people with inexperienced ones.

  • cypbychoice

    If they had treated their staff right , and not use every trick in the book to get rid of decent staff so they could cut costs using cheap labour they would not be in the position they are now. Cyprus was well known for its hospitality and cheerful staff, now you are lucky if you get a grunt , that is if they are not shattered by the extra work and hours forced on them with the threats they use “if you don,t like it leave” or work till you drop.

  • Pullaard

    There is also another unfortunate trait which I have noticed, hopefully it is a rare phenomenon. Many of the local workers seem surly and appear to be doing the customers a favour, whereas the Eastern Europeans, for example, are much more welcoming. Lousy employment conditions apply to both, but the Cypriot personnel have a culture of entitlement.

    • cypbychoice

      Of course they are surly, they have had their pay cut , their hours extended and overtime treated as normal hours they are being treated like slaves .
      I know all of this as my wife worked at a high end hotel in Limassol she worked hard with unsociable hours moving beds to rooms on her own till her back gave out , now she is waiting for an operation or she will be in a wheelchair for life , and still may be.
      Not one care from this saintly hotel , like it or lump it is their mantra

      • Pullaard

        I agree, but what I was trying to point out was that the foreigners suffer just as badly (OK it’s not their country and they could have stayed at home) but they manage to hide their difficulties from the tourists and appear welcoming however miserable they might feel. Maybe only a very small proportion of locals act as if they are doing the customers a favour, but even a few is not helping Cyprus’ image. By all means the employees should fight for their rights, bearing in mind the many unions only manage to get higher income and basic rights for the union bosses and not for the workers they’re supposed to represent. But don’t show this side of Cyprus to the visitors because ROC needs more tourists not fewer. So smile, even if you feel like spitting!

        • cypbychoice

          I know what you mean but every night my wife came home in tears, the management just push and push.Bless her she always showed good humour and a smile for the guests and she has loads of letters and mail from ex guests thanking her. Now she has been thrown on the scrap heap and it makes me so mad management can act like this and deny any wrongdoing, all they care about is the money stuff the people who work for them

    • Slomi

      The counter staff at the Reception , who mainly are locals in good hotels do not smile at all, Simply!!! they do not smile.plain and unwelcoming faces such as doing a favor to us. It is sickening. Yes with Russians only they are good. Pathetic. I have one acquaintance in gym who works at reception in some four star hotel in Aya Napa. Her running commentary in gym ,on regular basis is interesting to all women around and sad for me. She talks about guests specifically single men as to how they change women each evening and which good clothes they wear and give for dryc clean and those who are “misers”and iron their shirts inside and how these working women check the things in mornings when the lady gueast leaves. It was a mirror for me to understand the standard of average working staff here . I will never dare to visit my any friend if he is staying in some hotel here as I will be nervous with idea that a team of Gestapo is sitting down at reception keeping an eye what we drink and blah blah. It is actually sad for tourism industry here.

  • almostbroke

    The overriding mantra is ‘maximum profit for minimum input ‘ ,

  • martin

    the hotels need more people to cheat the tourists that’s the game,like when they have on the menu 3 course meal for 10 euro,sounds ok but you never see all 3