Tourist Establishments in Panic, No Workers Despite Wage Increase?

Lauren Simmonds

You just can’t get the staff. Or can you? It depends…

As Index writes on the 3rd of May, 2018, numerous tourist oriented facilities situated along the Adriatic coast have yet to find workers, while some of them have managed to get it together just in time, many are struggling and stretching to their limits. Namely, the massive exodus of Croatian residents to pastures new such as the UK, Ireland, and Germany, has led to great difficulty in finding workers, especially properly qualified personnel. At the same time, this has also led to salary increases. Top chefs can earn the most of all, and their net salaries can amount to as much as 40,000 kuna.

Ivan will open his restaurant on the island of Hvar in just several weeks time, and chefs are posing him a bit of an issue. “We can’t find the people, especially those who know how to work,” stated Ivan, who is thinking about hiring workers from neighboring countries, but there lie daunting problems of an entirely different nature thanks to the infamous complications and red tape of Croatia’s sadistic bureaucracy.

Namely, to hire workers from other countries, they must register them for at least six months, which poses a potentially big problem for restaurants which operate for only four to five months per year.

One owner of a Rovinj restaurant found workers in… Belgrade.

The owner of the Al Gastaldo restaurant in Rovinj, Mira Borojević, says she had problems with finding enough workers last year, because the seasonal workers who came from Slavonia left for a 200-300 kuna wage increase in another restaurant. This year, though, she managed to find workers from the Serbian capital, of all places.

“I know it’s difficult to find workers, so I found employees during the winter this year, and I came across good personnel through a colleage in Belgrade, I’ve provided them with work permits, but I have to keep them employed for six months, such is the law,” stated Mira Borojević in a talk with Index, adding that the state should be a bit more flexible in terms of recruiting foreign labour.

The the hunt for workers began way back in October last year for one Opatija restaurant…

The restaurant manager of Roko in Opatija, Igor Cvetkoski, told Index that finding a workforce is always a problem, but the advantage of their restaurant is that they work all year round.

“Having learned from our previous bad experience that chefs go in June, we’re now negotiating with the workers outside of the season, almost all of them stay to work with us, and their benefits are that they have a free day and work seven to eight hours a day. Only 10 percent of our workforce is new this season,” Cvetkoski said.

One tavern owner in Korčula says that it’s difficult to find adequate accommodation for workers…

The Maha Tavern on the beautiful island of Korčula is owned by the Marelić family, which has been running it for years. To date, it hasn’t faced the same issues with finding staff as others have. However, the owner of the tavern, Ivan Marelić, told Index of a slightly different issue, which is finding adequate accommodation for workers and an unskilled labour force.

“Everything’s full and it’s difficult to find normal accommodation for employees, and yet another problem is the unskilled labour force, that’s what kind of problems my colleagues are met with. We’re constantly being called out for low wages, nobody looks back at the cashiers in shops that work from dawn til dusk for 3,000 kuna, and we’re called out for a salary of 6,000 kuna for a waiter. In general, the salaries in the restaurant range from 6,000 kuna upwards for waiters, and 10,000 to 12,000 kuna and over for chefs. Korčula’s top chef has a 20,000 kuna monthly income, but absolute professionals are another matter.”

The owner of one Zadar restaurant has claimed that ”people don’t learn anything at hospitality school”

Erik Pavin, the owner of one family restaurant, Niko in Zadar, shares his rather blunt view. Aside from the restaurant itself, Erik also owns a hotel where his whole family works, along with other workers.

“Our restaurant has been running for 56 years, we don’t work on Sundays, so that in itself is important to our staff because that’s rare for restaurants on Sundays, along with that, we work all year round and everyone earns a regular salary, but what I can say is that those who’re attending or who have attended and finished hospitality school are extremely bad, schooling hasn’t taught them anything, and this is a problem which needs to be solved. We need educated young people who will know how to work,” claims Pavin.

“The question is how much we’ll lose out on this season due to the lack of workers”

Danijell Nikolla, the owner of the popular Split restaurant Corto Maltese, points out that the hospitality situation is chaotic and that anyone who hasn’t found workers for this season yet can comfortably put their keys in the lock.

“Now, it’s impossible to find workers, and we’ve solved this problem by keeping all our employees on through the winter, even though we had half the work, so it didn’t really pay off financially, but that’s why we haven’t got any of these problems. Many of my colleagues are now facing a lack of workers, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the salary levels, but with the lack of people. Young people have gone abroad, and there are very few people who know how to actually do the job. Now, a cook from a fast food place becomes a boss in a big restaurant. We’re going to have to start importing the labour force if tourism thinks it’s going to survive. Now it’s just a matter of how much we’re going to lose out on this season because there aren’t any workers. The salaries range from 5,000 kuna upwards for waiters, and for head chefs, wages can go up to as much as 40,000 kuna.

Then you’ve also got the case of other restaurant owners preying on [trying to lure away] your workers, offering them bigger salaries, and then you end up losing them. I understand these people, they’re desperate because they have no workers.

This isn’t an issue being experienced solely by the hospitality industry, people can’t even find apartment cleaners. Apartment owners that haven’t renovated their apartments over the winter period won’t be able to find anyone to do it now,” Nikolla explained to Index.

On the other hand, one restaurant owner from Poreč in Istria claims that if you’re paying a decent salary, then you don’t have a problem.

Nikola Bijelić, the owner of the Sv. Nikola restaurant in Poreč claims to have zero staff problems. The restaurant runs all year long and employs a permanent workforce. He believes his staff to be satisfied because they’re well paid, and he also pays them extra for work on Sundays, as well as for overtime.

“When you pay an employee well, then you have no problems, and with us, there’s a good working atmosphere, which is equally important to our employees,” adds Bijelić.

The owner of one restaurant on Hvar even takes his workers to Mexico, Cuba, and more, just to educate them on the typical eating and drinking habits of people from different nations.

Denis Vešović, a Dalmatian restaurant owner on the island of Hvar, also has a permanent team of employees. He states that seasonally speaking, he only employs a few more workers.

“The main team is permanently employed, but every year we look for a couple of new ones. As far as employees are concerned, some are motivated by money, professionals by the job, they look at where they’ll work, and I pay my workers in the winter too, when they aren’t working. Those who can travel, I take on business trips where we generally see what the people of these countries eat, drink, and we educate ourselves, we’ve already travelled Europe, and we were also in Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba …” states Vešović.

“Our policy not only jeopardises tourism, but also the economic development of the country”

Huge issues are also being faced by the tourist company of Obonjan Rivijera.

On the island of Obonjan, located near to Šibenik, the tourist season is about to begin, and the classic saga of not having enough workers is in full swing. There are a lot of tourism oriented facilities there, and as early as last year, they felt the negative aspect of mass emigration from Croatia, meaning the departure of high-quality workforce.

This year, that thoroughly unpleasant feeling is even more pronounced, warns Kristijan Gržetić from Obonjan Rivijera, who is in charge of media contact.

He states that these are consequences of the ruling politics, which not only endangers tourism but also significantly jeopardises Croatia’s economic development as a whole.

“A large number of establishments and other service providers in tourism are faced with a shortage of workers, leading to the employment of less qualified staff, reflecting on the image of the offer and the overall picture of the Croatian tourist offer. The government has shown a complete lack of understanding when it raised VAT for caterers to 25 percent. Tourism facilities can’t increase their salaries to attract professionals.

Finding quality staff has become almost impossible, you’re forced to take people on who don’t have any experience, educate them, and then these people go off abroad in search of better conditions and we go around in circles, we’re educating people who are then leaving us. We’ve become exporters of labour, people are our only export product. What will it be like over the coming years?” a concerned Gržetić asks.

The entire Adriatic is feeling the crippling effects of this issue.

France cleverly reduced its VAT to 8%, while Croatia raised it to a massive 25%.

“The state can, with its measures and understanding of the real sector, help tourist facilities. The French Government proposed a 13 percent increase in the VAT for tourism establishments a couple of years ago. The French took to the streets, mass protests were organised, and in the end, the French Government dropped even the existing VAT from 13 percent down to 8 percent. Although for the first year, the budget inflow was reduced, then 30,000 new catering facilities were opened and the inflow tripled. The real sector in France flowered after the 8 percent VAT was enforced, while Croatia has VAT of 25%. In the end, more restaurants will be closed, and how will the state budget be filled?” Gržetić asks.

The company Esculap Teo gastro Group, owned by Dubrovnik’s Mato Đurović, once owned seven restaurants, today it has just two. The owner of this company is one of the most well-known in his field in Dubrovnik and has been in the business for more than forty years. His company’s director, Kosta Vukota, talked to Index about the problems being met with and suffered in the business, and one of the greatest shortcomings is the lack of workforce.

Though their restaurants don’t suffer with this problem themselves, there is daily contact with other colleagues from the industry who are struggling immensely with the finding of staff.

“We’re fortunate enough to have no problems of the sort as yet, 85 percent of our staff is from Dubrovnik and its surroundings, and the rest is from Slavonia, and we keep our employees on all year round, the shortest contract we provide is for nine months, we offer good conditions and everyone keeps coming back. We provide good salaries and normal shifts, so we have no problems with the lack of workforce,”

Despite Dubrovnik getting by a little better than everyone else, this remains a big problem all over Croatia.

”There is a total lack of professional and good staff, and the youth don’t show any interest in improving their skills in these fields. With a timely reaction, we made sure we didn’t have to deal with this problem. Our owner has been in hospitality for forty years and is a good organiser. But others have big problems with finding a workforce, we’re missing the people, a lot of people have gone abroad and we’re feeling it,” Vukota told Index.

One Zagreb establishment kept their workers on over the winter period.

Zagreb’s Marin Medak’s problem with staff shortages was solved by keeping his workers on during the winter, even five or six more of them, who were really a surplus, but he knew that some of his employees would go to the seaside for the season, which eventually happened, so now he still has enough staff regardless of that fact.

Although he lost out financially because of that decision, he says that at least he has no problem with the lack of workforce, and the season in Zagreb has very much begun because the city is already crowded with tourists.

“I’ve been aiming to have workers employed throughout the year because I knew that some of them would go off to the seaside. In addition to employment throughout the year, we often have people who are really a surplus, but since people are leaving, we have to think about that. The transition of people has abnormally accelerated, that’s why salaries in the tourist industry continually rise, for both waiters and chefs, especially along the Adriatic.

Assistant chefs on the coast have salaries of 10,000 kuna, and chefs from 12,000 kuna to 35-40,000 kuna, as some head chefs get. But all the laws are being violated on the coast, employees don’t work there for 40 hours a week, they don’t have annual holidays, so facilities along the Adriatic are paying people loads for working a 16 hour week. In the absence of the labour force, prices will grow unevenly, and unfortunately, it will be harder and harder because there is huge disparity in wages along the Adriatic and in continental Croatia,” Medak tells us.

“We in Zagreb make far less than those on the Adriatic coast”

“We in Zagreb, or those in Slavonia, normally can’t afford to pay such salaries because we make far less than those on the Adriatic. It’s a bloody job.

And what happens in the end? With us, a person who doesn’t have qualifications comes to work, you teach them how to, you invest in that person, and then he goes off to work on the coast, although they haven’t been trained to do so, to go and be the boss of some kitchen.

However, because there are many workforce problems on the coast, they then receive everything. That person is harming me because they haven’t returned to me what I’ve invested in them, to the detriment of themselves because they’re selling themselves under something that they aren’t, my guests lose out, their new guests lose out, they get hired on my name, and they get a high salary. In this situation, we’ve got the problem that each side has created damage. There’s the core of the problem. The fact is that everyone wants to earn as much money as possible for less work. It ends there. And then we still have 25 percent VAT, and it’s impossible for us to earn as much in Zagreb as they do on the coast. With us, the guest barely spends 100 kuna, while on the coast, they’ll spend at least 300, ” concluded Medak.

Click here for the original Index article by Martina Pauček Šljivak.


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