Cafe Le Monde owner Andrew Cherry on Hastings St outside the iconic cafe/restaurant.
Cafe Le Monde owner Andrew Cherry on Hastings St outside the iconic cafe/restaurant. Alan Lander

High price for Hastings Street workers

THERE'S a price for working in paradise.

For hospitality staff keeping the culinary wheels turning in Hastings Street, it can be a daily journey from as far as Gympie on minimal wages.

It can be a midday, mid-peak business rush up the road to move the car, thus avoiding a parking fine which could equate to most of your wage that day.

It can mean sharing a unit close to the action, because even if you can afford it, accommodation is simply not available.

And for employers such as resorts, cafes and restaurants needing to provide a first-class Hastings Street-level service while minimising costs, it's a constant challenge, with at least one saying the mothballed TAFE could be a good source if it re-opened to train hospitality staff.

"It's about getting good staff - there are lots of people looking for work, but you can't just put anybody on,” Cafe Le Monde owner and Hastings St veteran Andrew Cherry said.

Noosa Beach House owner Peter Kuruvita agrees.

"The biggest concern is trying to get people to work because of the distance to travel,” he said.

"I think we offer great rewards. The hourly rate is the same whether you're 16, 28 or 38. People appreciate that, but go 'love to come but I can't'.”

Darren McLenaghan, whose RACV Noosa Resort is not quite on the hallowed tourist strip, nevertheless sees the same issues.

"It can be challenging, which is why when you get good staff you look after them,” he said.

"Good ones are getting harder to get. We're fortunate to have low turnover, and we feel we are starting to get a reputation as an employer who looks after their staff.

"Its not rocket science. Happy staff equals happy customers equals more profitable business and we really subscribe to that.”

Mr Cherry said while there was always a flow of applications from backpackers, he had to calculate carefully when to hire them as casuals, and for how long.

"These two weeks before Christmas are traditionally quiet, then in two weeks we're going to go from 30 per cent to 100 per cent overnight. You have to have staff prepared.

"You can't hire those staff now or you're going to go bust. You need to pick the right staff, be as slick as you can, and cross your fingers.”

Mr Kuruvita said while he gets people coming through, "finding permanent people is a lot harder”.

"So what we do is go to grassroots level and talk to the schools. We've got a lot of kids from St Andrews, my kids' schools.

"I go to careers nights, and we are also starting to look at the work placement agencies but one of the biggest issues is accommodation.

"And it don't think it's the cost of it; I think it's the lack of it.”

Mr McClenaghan has a similar story.

"We have good staff parking on-site but affordable housing on hospitality wages, a relatively low paid industry, is becoming an increasing challenge for our staff,” he said.

"They find ways around it; sharing to keep rents down, or more having having to commute from as far as Gympie, a 40-50 minute drive.”

The combination of accommodation, parking - and generally being a 'small town' all add to the difficulties of attracting quality staff , particularly from 'down south'.

"I'm just back from overseas, but also Sydney and Melbourne,” Mr Kuruvita said.

"They have amazing staff there, and I say 'come up to Noosa', but the young ones say it's boring.

"It's the city versus country life, unless they're a surfer or an outdoors person; we struggle to get the good quality skills from the south.

"It's they're not earning enough, its the accommodation availability.

"Our financial controller couldn't find a house close to here for six months, so its not just the line staff, it's everyone. Airbnb maybe?”

Mr McClenaghan said he would support the Tewantin TAFE re-opening if it would be geared to training to meet the demands of the local hospitality industry.

"The more training facilities and making it easier to learn a new trade without having to travel to Brisbane, the more youngsters growing up in the region will pursue those trades,” he said.

Mr Cherry was more cautious, saying it might help, but "to what degree I don't know”.

"I've been employing locally; I'd rather pick the person, even if they're not trained. [With experienced people] you have to de-train them first, then train them your own way.”

But whatever difficulties face the employers, none would change a thing about what makes Noosa the place that it is. And things aren't as bad as they seem.

Mr Kuruvita said his recent trip reminded him of how things are elsewhere.

"I've just been around the world for the last eight and a half weeks - there's no traffic here,” he said.

"A half-hour drive takes you into the country on to acres; its not major.

"We support all that goes on here. We all feel the same. The thing about Noosa is innovation; there's always new things.

"We're nearly at the stage where there's no seasons in Noosa. It used to be quiet in some periods [when] could fire a gun down Hastings. Not now.”

Mr Cherry said described parking as "becoming the pain in paradise” for his up to 120 staff and the 6am to midnight hours they operate.

"I park in Lions Park, but have got to be out of there by midday,” he said.

"But I'm here until 2.30pm so I have to find somewhere else for two hours.

"Staff often have to park the other side of Ricky's (in Noosa Drive).

"There are 'secret' spots but everyone knows them these days. But the parking offiers are not ferocious once they get to know you.

"But a lot of staff have paid tickets at $70 a pop. And if they're casual that's a day's wages.

"Tourists say 'there's no parking'; I say 'we could bulldoze the national park, then yo've got massive car parking space there but then of course no-one would come'.

"They stop and look at it, and understand.

"There's scarcity, but if it was all available to the masses, it would lose what is special. You just have to wear it.

"I've modified my [parking] behaviour; if the time comes I can't live with it, I'll move.

"But that's the price of working in paradise.”