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France – World | On the Spanish coast, the lack of staff puts tourism under pressure

Benidorm (Spain) – In normal times, Pablo Gonzalez would never have thought of lowering the curtain of his brasserie in the middle of summer. But this year, he is resigned: for lack of staff, he will close his restaurant one day a week until the end of the season.

“I put ads on the internet” and “asked everywhere”, but “without success so far”, says this restaurateur from Benidorm, a seaside resort in southeastern Spain emblematic of mass tourism.

In his establishment, which provides 120 covers daily, two servers are missing out of a total of sixteen employees. In this context, “impossible” to open seven days a week: “My employees must be able to rest,” he explains to AFP.

Cooks, bartenders or dishwashers: among the restaurants and cafes in the city, many are also struggling to recruit. A source of tension as activity picks up again after two years of pandemic.

“Summer promises to be very good” in terms of attendance but “the lack of seasonal workers is a real problem”, summarizes Alex Fratini, observing the parade of tourists on the terrace of his café, one of the eight establishments he owns in Benidorm.

“There have always been recruitment difficulties, but this is unheard of,” notes this restaurateur, who is struggling to find candidates: “Two weeks ago, I had stalled ten (job) interviews, but no one came. No one!”

– “Do not want anymore” –

For Diego Salinas, manager of the Association of bars, restaurants and cafeterias of Benidorm (Abreca), which estimates that there are 1,200 unfilled positions, “several factors” explain this situation.

Among them: the time constraints of the tourism sector, the lack of training and the backlash of the pandemic.

“With the Covid, many employees left and did not return because they found work elsewhere,” he explains.

A situation aggravated by real estate pressure. The vacated accommodation “has been converted into tourist apartments, with higher rents. For employees, it has become very complicated to find accommodation”, insists the head of Abreca.

For Francisco Giner, delegate of the Workers’ Commissions union (CCOO) and employee of a city hotel, the Covid-19 has only brought to light problems that already existed, such as “low wages” and “the often arduous working conditions.

During confinement, “many realized that they no longer wanted to do these jobs”: the pace in the hotel and catering industry is “intense” and “difficult to reconcile with family life”, underlines the trade unionist .

An analysis shared by Lucia Camilia, a former waitress who denounces the “precariousness” reigning in the sector. “We work weekends, we miss birthdays” and, in the end, “we don’t feel valued”, testifies this resident of Barcelona.

– “Emergency plan” –

From the Balearic Islands to the Costa Brava, the whole of tourist Spain is affected by this disaffection, which affects several other European countries.

According to employers’ organizations, 50,000 positions would thus be vacant across the Pyrenees. A paradox given the country’s unemployment rate (13.65%), among the highest in the OECD.

The problem is “generalized” and can only be solved through “significant reforms”, believes Emilio Gallego, general secretary of the employers’ organization Hosteleria de Espana, who pleads for “an emergency plan”.

Aware of the problem, the left-wing government of Pedro Sanchez announced in early June a relaxation of the rules for welcoming foreign workers. But the executive, through the voice of the Minister of Labor Yolanda Diaz, also invited the sector to make more efforts on wages.

A message that annoys some restaurateurs in Benidorm, where a 4.5% increase has just been recorded with the unions. “If the problem came from salaries, it would be easily resolved: those who pay more would have more employees”, squeaks Alex Fratini.

“When there is no one, there is no one”, abounds Angela Cabanas, who says she has offered “up to 2,000 euros per month” in order to find a seasonal worker for the kitchen of her establishment.

Tired of the fight, this restaurateur has decided to open only the bar this summer. “It’s a drastic decision but I have no choice,” she says, saying to herself “discouraged”.

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