HANA JESTRIBEK is the co-founder of Little Hawk Cafe. Despite taking a chance with a hipster cafe in a semi-industrial area of Beaconsfield, it proved a roaring success – and then Covid came along. With WA in the midst of its pandemic, she says the impact on the hospitality sector – and its workers – is being masked by WA’s booming mining economy and more needs to be done to support them.
THE Hunger Games-esque feeling to running a small business in the fallout of Covid management is frustrating at best and debilitating at least.
Where to even start. How about at the basics – of having the courage to have uncomfortable conversations about policy decisions, the inequities of a two tier economy and ineffective public health management that has continually moved the goal posts, and left many thousands of those in hospitality, tourism and retail small businesses – scrambling to stay ahead, afloat and sane.
In Western Australia we boast of a $5.7 billion+ budget surplus, to the envy of the other states.
But where is this surplus in the Covid fallout for small business?
In meagre ‘hardship’ grants that barely cover lost earnings?
In the proving of losses beyond a certain percentage to even become eligible? What a joke.
When are we going back to normal is the question on everyone’s lips, yet this period is by far the least normal we’ve experienced in our nearly five years of business.
We cannot compete with the generous wage provisions of the mining industry, and chronic staff shortages across the hospitality sector mean that trading hours are inconsistent, customers cannot expect the same products and services and owner operators are forced to work more than maximum hours or close doors.
But the thing is, we can’t afford to close our doors.
Unlike the public service, with its generous work from home entitlements, allowing its workforce to continue to engage in paid employment irrespective of policy decisions, restrictions, mandates or Covid status, hospitality employees are often in insecure employment – on a casual basis.
When a lockdown occurs, borders close, mandates are enforced – it is those in our industry who bear the brunt of an unstable and inconsistent employment tenure.
And when things finally go “back to normal” hospitality and tourism businesses are scrambling to meet demand with no staff.
It’s not OK to continue to sugar coat the impact on small business, whose revenue losses are hidden under the weight of the mining boom.
It’s not OK to continue to ignore the working from home implications on retail and hospitality outlets.
It’s not OK to continue to ignore the disparities that exist between various sectors in our economy.
Once we’ve had our uncomfortable conversations, we need to assist our small business sector to get back on its feet – in very real terms.
We need to make policy decisions that support a hospitality, retail and tourism workforce and provide actual financial assistance.
If policy makers had to endure the employment conditions of many small businesses over the last two years – the support for them would be minimal.