The Australian fuel industry provides essential fuel and support services to the Australian community around the clock. These services were provided by a national workforce of 61,000 people in 2020 (excluding refining and fuel importation) – 12,000 working in fuel distribution & wholesaling and the remaining 49,000 working in fuel & convenience retail (i.e. service stations).
During COVID, the Australian Government rightly identified our industry as being a provider of essential community services. The consequent permission for fuel businesses to keep trading through the national lockdown and the financial assistance provided under the Federal Government’s Job Keeper programme, meant that loss of employment within the industry was relatively small.
Consumer demand for round-the-clock fuel services means that our industry largely operates on a 24/7 basis. The challenging nature of this operation means that our workforce comprises large numbers of people who work part-time hours, or transition through our industry while undertaking external studies or looking for a more conventional ‘day job’.
“Essentially, the jobs in our industry are not the first choice of many Australians despite our industry paying higher rates of pay than the general retail sector”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.
“As a result, fuel retail businesses tend to rely heavily on temporary visa workers – particularly international students – to fill late night and early morning shifts. But the international border closures have meant that the supply of these workers has dried up”, said Mark.
With the Federal Treasurer announcing that Australia’s international borders will likely remain closed until mid-next year, and employment figures released this week showing that unemployment levels are near pre-covid levels, labour supply looks like it will remain tight until the second half of 2022.
This means that the current difficulty being experienced by fuel retailers in securing the staff they need is likely to get worse before it gets better. In one case in Sydney, a fuel retailer is reporting that they have been unable to replace the staff that they have already lost over the past 18 months – and that current Visa limitations means that a further 5 employees will likely be lost to the business before the end of the year.
“Despite constant recruitment activity via social media, advertisements in local community papers and erecting signs in their stores, the business has not received any applications for the vacant positions – even after the expiry of Job Keeper on 28 March 2021”, said Mark.
This business owner recently advised ACAPMA that if the problem is not resolved soon, they may have to reduce their trading hours to patterns not seen since the 1970’s and 1980’s – when local service stations only operated between the hours of 6am and 10pm only.
It is worth noting that the problem is not constrained to the fuel industry. It is just as acute in regional towns as it is in Australia’s capital cities. The problem is also multi-faceted. Some regional businesses have reported that while they have found potential employees who were willing to relocate to their regional town, the lack of affordable accommodation (apparently due to capital city residents buying properties in these areas and letting them out for short term holiday accommodation) meant that they couldn’t relocate.
“In places like Gympie in Queensland, for example, we are hearing that capital city buyer demand has pushed the median house price up by an average of $100,000 and rental accommodation is both scarce and expensive for workers who may be seeking to relocate for employment in the town”, said Mark.
To make matters worse, the Federal Government recently decided to relax the 20-hour per week cap for international student visa holders working in the hospitality industry only. This means that visa students working casual hours in other industries, like fuel retail, will likely be lured away by the prospect of uncapped weekly hours in hospitality.
“It is a bizarre decision that effectively amounts to ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ when it comes to addressing the current labour shortage. We are currently lobbying the government to widen this provision to all industries, including the fuel industry”, said Mark.
ACAPMA is currently working with the Federal Government and various state governments to address the various issues constraining labour availability. The Association is keen to hear from members who are experiencing difficulties recruiting staff to assist with this process. Members are encouraged to contact ACAPMA by sending an email to email@example.com