Who’s going to make your coffee? – PART 1

A quick cappuccino on the way to work. A kebab for lunch. Into the local bakery on the way home or out for a tasty Thai dinner. Eating out is a way of life in New Zealand and we do it more and more, but that may be about to change again.

More than a quarter (26 percent) of the food-spending pie is now spent in restaurants and on ready-to-eat meals, such as takeaway hot drinks and takeaway pizzas (compared with 23 percent in 2014). About one-third of the pie (34 percent) goes on grocery foods (compared with 37 percent in 2014). (Source: http://archive.stats.govt.nz)

At the end of September Immigration New Zealand dealt the hospitality sector a devastating blow – from the 1st of October, anyone wanting to gain permanent residency through hospitality work might as well just find another country or go home. 

Apparently we don’t want (or need) hard-working migrants in our kitchens and bakeries. Apparently New Zealand only wants highly paid workers who are able to earn 150% of the median NZ income – that means a pay packet of more than $90,000 a year! Anyone else is only welcome for a short time and won’t be able to stay more than three years.  

So what does this mean for your daily cappuccino, tomorrow’s Thai takeaway, or for us here at Bread and Butter Bakery?

It means that as employers in hospitality, we’ll have to go through the visa approval process for all our migrant staff every one of the three years they’re here, if we manage to keep them for that long. It also means that after those three years, we’ll certainly lose them. That’s not only sad because we lose people who’ve become part of our bakery family and our local community, it’s also expensive. 

It puts an extra level of cost and strain on an industry that already operates with the barest of margins – a 3-5% profit margin is considered good in our industry. The cost of the visa application process and training can be measured in both dollars and time, and as each trained worker leaves New Zealand the pain is compounded by increasing minimum wages and food costs, rising rent and energy costs – these expenses add up and a business can only take a certain amount of strain before something has to give. 

Who baked the bread you have for breakfast? Who made your flat white?
Who cooked your last take-away meal?

There’s an obvious question. Why doesn’t hospitality pay higher wages to attract more Kiwis, and also to ensure we can employ from overseas if we need to? The fact is, with such low margins there isn’t any fat in the system, and even business owners in hospitality are in it for the love rather than the money, unless they’re lucky enough to own a chain of very successful restaurants. So, unless everyone is happy to pay $10 for a coffee, $30.00 for eggs on toast or $50.00 for a main dinner course, I just can’t see how we’ll survive.  

All of this makes me wonder – what is this latest policy hoping to achieve?  I also wonder if the politicians involved consulted with our industry leaders in the hospitality field or did they only talk to Fonterra, kiwi-fruit growers and the construction industry – although I suspect these industries aren’t likely to pay $90 K  either.

Hospitality employs 133,000 people in New Zealand and in some areas it’s a much larger employer than farming, yet it’s seldom mentioned as one of our country’s significant industries. 

Who cooks your food? Chances are they are not born in New Zealand and are here on a temporary work visa.

Perhaps one of the reasons hospitality is given so little attention is that a lot of its workers are immigrants – Asians of all nationalities make up the majority, but there are plenty of South Americans, as well as many young Europeans. An invisible population taking care of us and making sure we’re fed and watered. Kiwis – white or brown – are definitely underrepresented. So why is hospitality such an undesirable career choice for young Kiwis? I can only guess at this, but I assume that the image of low skill and low pay is not seen as a desirable choice so isn’t promoted in schools. Young people are encouraged to get a huge student loan and go to uni to become lawyers, doctors, accountants, designers, marketing gurus, and IT-specialists. What people forget is that all these doctors, lawyers and others need to be fed! I do think hospitality is underrated, and I admit, I didn’t consider it as a career when I was at school. I went to uni, got a Master’s Degree in Science, did another post-graduate degree and still ended up in hospo. Why? Because it’s actually a lot of fun to make food and work with people.

In hospitality you make people happy. You send them to work with a great coffee and a warm smile. You brighten their lunchbreak with tasty treats. You serve up a delicious dinner and give them a night off cooking. It’s a job that makes sense. 

Our customers often tell us that the food we bake makes them feel better. They tell us how happy they are that they found our organic sourdough bread. They tell us they can finally eat bread again, after struggling to digest the crap supermarkets sell under the name of bread. They tell us our products have changed their lives. In all my career as a science writer and PR specialist no one ever told me I’d changed their life. Nobody beamed at me and said an article I had written changed their lives and OMG they never thought they would be that happy after reading something. No one ever thanked me for promoting something. It was considered a successful career, but somehow it always felt a bit empty. 

Guess how many of the Bread & Butter Team in the picture were born in NZ! Answer: 2
both of them first generation Kiwis born to Asian parents. Other nationalities in the picture:
Sri Lankan, Indian, German, Taiwanese, Italian, Solomon Islands, Polish, Chinese

But in hospo I feel full. Knowing that I make people happy, knowing that I make a change for the better in people’s lives, knowing that by making good healthy food I can help people lead healthier lives makes the hard work worth it. To know that by becoming a baker, a chef, a waiter you are standing on the shoulders of countless generations of people who have worked in this industry is a great feeling. They’re the people who’ve kept cultural and religious traditions alive, serving people as they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals and Christmas parties, then cleaning up after them, sacrificing their own time so others can have a great time. But does anyone think about the satisfaction and values of hospitality when they’re in school and planning their future? I doubt it.

Next time you’re getting a coffee or sitting down to a meal, take a good look at the person serving you. Take the time to say hello, to say thanks, and to say that you appreciate what they do. Then join me for my next post where I’ll tell you about Bread and Butter Bakery’s dealings with Immigration NZ and talk about society’s inherent disregard for all people in the food producing system.

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