BENIDORM, SPAIN (AFP) – In normal times, Pablo Gonzalez would never have considered closing his restaurant at the height of summer. But this year, he’s been forced to do just that for one day a week for lack of staff.
“I advertised online… and asked everywhere” looking for staff, said Gonzalez, who runs the ‘Taberna Andaluza’ in Benidorm, a hub for mass tourism on Spain’s southeastern coast.
“But until now, I haven’t managed.”
At full capacity, his restaurant can seat 120 people, but he is currently two waiters short among a staff of 16, making it “impossible” to open seven days a week.
“My staff need to rest,” he said with a shrug.
Whether it’s chefs, staff or dishwashers, many restaurants and cafes across Benidorm are struggling to recruit workers, generating a new source of tension after two years of pandemic.
“It looks like it’s going to be a great summer,” said Alex Fratini, watching tourists sit down on the terrace of his cafe, one of eight establishments he runs in Benidorm.
“But the lack of staff is really problematic. We’ve always had problems finding people, but we’ve never seen it this bad,” he told AFP.
“Two weeks ago, we’d lined up 10 people for interview, but none of them showed up!”
Head of Benidorm’s Abreca association Diego Salinas believes there are some 1,200 vacancies in the sector, saying “various factors” were to blame.
Among them were the seasonal nature of employment, the lack of training and the after-effects of the COVID crisis.
“With the pandemic, many staff left and haven’t come back because they found work in other sectors,” he told AFP.
And the situation has been exacerbated by Benidorm’s lack of housing, with many empty flats “turned into tourist apartments with very high rental costs”, Salinas explained.
“So it is very difficult for workers to find housing.”
For Francisco Giner, a union representative who works at a hotel in the town, COVID merely served to put a spotlight on problems that already existed, such as “low salaries” and “somewhat awful working conditions”.
During the lockdown, “many people realised they didn’t want to work in this sector”, where the work is “intense” and “difficult to balance with family life”.
Former waitress Lucia Camilia, who lives in Barcelona, agrees, pointing to the “job insecurity” in the sector.
“You have to work at weekends, you miss birthdays… and you just don’t feel valued.”
Before the pandemic, Spain was the world’s second most popular tourist destination after France, with the sector accounting for 12.4 per cent of its economy. But the decreasing interest in jobs in the sector has affected the entire industry, from the Balearic Islands to the Costa Brava.
Employers’ organisations said there are some 50,000 job positions unfilled, in what is a paradox given Spain’s 13.65 per cent unemployment rate.