‘Waiter wanted’. This poster hangs from the doors of thousands and thousands of catering establishments in half of Spain, similar to what happened in the midst of a pandemic in pharmacies, when the vast majority wore the sign ‘There are no masks’.
This week, the Randstad Human Resources company has launched a campaign to attract 1,000 professionals from this sector for this summer. But Adecco also has another 1,000 vacancies open.
The figure can rise to around 100,000 unfilled positions –according to data from the Cepyme employers– on the eve of a summer for which experts anticipate that the tourist record reached in 2019 will be exceeded. The provinces with the most hospitality professionals are looking for are Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Seville, Castellón, Málaga, Valencia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.
What’s going on? How can it be that the country with the highest unemployment in Europe, where more than 3 million people are looking for a job and cannot find it, paradoxically has jobs that are forgotten? Entrepreneurs are concerned and launch an SOS: the country’s economic recovery depends mainly on the resurgence of tourism, the sector that contributes the most to Spanish GDP and, if there are no staff, it will be difficult to offer the services that are demanded and remain as one of the major tourist destinations worldwide.
José Luis Yzuel, president of Hospitality in Spain, indicates that it is a “highly demanding job in which conciliation with personal life is very difficult because the highest work peaks coincide with the times when most of the people he is enjoying his leisure.” He recalls that the hotel industry has doubled the number of workers in the last 20 years, a rate “hardly sustainable.”
It is also true that although there is much talk about the lack of workforce in the hotel industry, it is not the only sector that has this problem. It also occurs mainly in the computer and telecommunications sector due to the rise of new technologies, but also in traditional activities such as agriculture, construction and transportation.
From the Ministry of Labor they categorically deny a phenomenon such as the Great Resignation of the USA, where more than 4 million workers have voluntarily left their jobs and reject that it is a structural problem, limiting it only to some sectors and territories. But what has generated the most controversy, mainly among businessmen, is that the department commanded by Yolanda Díaz has blamed this personnel shortage on the low wages and precarious working conditions they endure.
It is a “false”, “irresponsible”, “demagogic” message, recently denounced the president of Cepyme, Gerardo Cuerva, who counterattacked: “In the Malaga parador, which I know well, the businessman, that is to say the State, does not manages to find the workers he needs… And I am sure that Minister Díaz will not consider in this case that this employer pays poorly ».
Reducing this problem of lack of waiters to low wages is “trivializing”, defend from the CEOE, who consider this an excuse for the Government not to address the structural reforms that allow correcting the “weaknesses” of the Spanish labor market and demand, above all , further training.
From the sector it is emphasized that the positions that require more qualification and experience are not covered and that the training is not in accordance with the needs of the companies. Infojobs data reveals that 70% of restaurant workers do not have a specific qualification.
In fact, from the gastronomic institution Basque Culinary Center they point out that the schools are full of aspiring chefs, but few waiters. The lack of recognition, precarious contracts and difficult hours are some of the reasons why demand is not met.
But is it really a problem of salary and precarious conditions? How much does a waiter earn? The average salary in Spain stands at 17,000 euros gross per year, just over 1,200 euros per month, according to Adecco estimates, although they vary according to the provincial agreement.
Thus, in the hospitality agreements in Malaga, the Canary Islands, Madrid or the Balearic Islands, the salary rises to 1,300-1,400 euros per month, although a minority part, such as in Asturias or in companies such as Telepizza, McDonald’s or Burger King, do barely charge the minimum wage, which stands at 1,000 euros per month (in 14 payments), according to CC OO data.
Beyond salary, companies should improve working conditions to be a more attractive sector. “It is a demanding job from the physical point of view, which also does not allow conciliation with personal life,” they point out from Hospitality of Spain. For this reason, they consider it necessary to look for systems that “improve remuneration” and conditions, which will be achieved with “professionalization and training”.
Both unions and businessmen agree that the great culprit of this personnel deficit in the sector is the pandemic, since most of the 800,000 temporary jobs that it destroyed in just a few days were in the hospitality industry, a sector that has been these two last years at half gas.
Thus, these workers had to look for life in other sectors and have no longer made the return journey. “Sectors such as agriculture or part of the industry have been active since the beginning of the covid and the frequent confinements made many of these professionals switch to these other sectors,” Ángel Solves, director of Adecco Hospitality, explains to this newspaper.
It must be borne in mind that the hospitality sector has practically doubled its jobs in the last 20 years due to the increased demand for these services, going from one million jobs in the year 2000 to 1.8 million that there were in 2019, while the incorporation of young people into the labor market is a third of what it was then.
Solves also warns that there are areas in our country, especially on the islands, where the return of foreign tourists requires language skills that “make it even more difficult to find qualified labor”, for which it advocates promoting the formation of deficit profiles of the sector and, in turn, promote destinations and look for formulas to generate employment in those provinces with highly concentrated seasonality (sun and beach destinations, etc.).
For his part, Florentino Felgueroso, associate researcher at Fedea, admits that the “precarious situation” of companies in the sector translates into “worse working conditions.” However, he warns that the hotel industry is the sector where there is more employment of immigrants, something that has been reduced with the pandemic and is exacerbating this personnel problem. The expert points out that in other European countries, such as the Netherlands, almost 40% of young people combine their studies with a job in this sector, something that is not common in Spain.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.