WAGES & CONDITIONS
Public Holidays Mean High Wage Costs: January had two public holidays on Jan 1 and Australia Day, Jan 26. This puts a lot of pressure on small operators who must pay public holiday wage rates 100 to 125% higher than normal. Eg for a Permanent Grade 2 (waiter, kitchen assistant) instead of their normal $19.53 ph, the public holiday rate is $43.94 ph.
For a Casual Grade 2, instead of their normal $24.41 ph, the public holiday rate is $48.85 ph. These wage costs are often unaffordable for cafes and restaurants, so many are closed. You can find all the wage rates for hospitality workers at Fair Work Australia - there are 4 separate awards that may apply.
Overtime for Casual Employees: From 1 January overtime rates have been introduced for casual employees who work for more than 38 hours per week. There are also other minor changes for permanent part-time workers - more details at Fair Work Australia.
IMMIGRATION & WORK VISAS
The 457 visa was the most common visa for employers to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work temporarily in Australia.
From April 2017, the path to permanent resident status was no longer available for most people on 457 visas - this was a huge disincentive for staff who had come here to work in hospitality, with the expectation they could make Australia their future home.
Businesses that rely on these workers have seen many of them decide to go home - Australia is now just another country with a high cost of living and a long way from the rest of the world.
A good summary of reactions from restaurant owners is at ABC News and from this immigration agency. In 2018 there appears to be a slight softening of government attitudes, but nowhere near enough to satisfy an industry under pressure with a constant shortage of skilled staff.