There is much discussion at the moment about the staffing crisis that is blighting many sections of the economy with businesses in various sectors, particularly hospitality and retail, finding it remarkably difficult to find staff in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon but amid the swathes of coverage being dedicated to the ‘crisis’ facing industry one feels that a very important factor is frequently either glossed over.
While the difficulties being faced by business owners as society reopens are often cited – and, to be clear, they do deserve attention – the plight of the workers who are the real backbone of the economy tends to get far less scrutiny.
It is undoubtedly true that there are currently less workers available to fill thousands of important but menial and, typically, low paid positions. Why is this?
The first thing to note is that there hasn’t, suddenly, been a mass exodus from Ireland of the people, Irish and other nationalities, who typically did the jobs where there are now, suddenly, worker shortages.
The Covid pandemic and associated lock-downs and restrictions have put severe limits on travel and migration and the fact that most major western nations are experiencing worker shortages shows that there hasn’t been a mass move by workers seeking opportunities in other jurisdictions.
So, if the workers haven’t left, but still can’t be found, where are they?
One snide argument is that most of them are simply ‘dossing’ at home, living the high life on PUP payments having gotten used to a life of leisure during the pandemic lock-downs.
Just this week the Government themselves put forward this claim arguing that the fact that over 50,000 people have been receiving the PUP for 76 weeks shows that the emergency payment had been a “disincentive for work”.
On the face of it 50,000 seems like a large number but remember it is less than 10 per cent of the over 600,000 who were receiving the payment in May 2020. Let’s also not forget that there are many sectors – nightclubs and late-night entertainment for example – that have been shut, and remain closed, since the very beginning of the pandemic crisis.
These businesses undoubtedly account for a huge portion of the 50,000 workers cited by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last week.
Could the answers to the mystery of the missing workers simply be that many of them are simply sick and tired of working long hours in menial jobs for a paltry paycheck.
In the United States some of the nation’s largest employers, such as McDonalds, Amazon and Walmart, have had the stunning realisation that paying a decent wage can help attract staff and solve their staffing ‘crisis’.
For once the free market so beloved of major corporations seems to be operating in workers’ favour. The pandemic has changed much about the way we work, could the biggest change be how people are paid for their efforts.