The coronavirus pandemic has seen hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs around the country, but on one stretch of the northern NSW coastline the figures are especially devastating.
- The number of jobs on the NSW Mid North Coast fell by 11.8 per cent, and by 11.2 per cent in the Coffs Harbour and Grafton regions
- Job losses were heaviest in tourism, food, recreation, and creative industries
- Some operators are optimistic the worst is behind them.
Over seven weeks from mid March to early May, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found 11.8 per cent of payroll jobs disappeared on the NSW Mid North Coast and 11.2 per cent were lost in the neighbouring Coffs Harbour and Grafton regions.
The losses were the largest in Australia.
The industries most impacted by COVID-19 tell the story of why these holiday hamlets have been the hardest hit.
“The biggest impacts have been in the accommodation, food service, arts, and recreation service industries,” the head of labour statistics at the ABS, Bjorn Jarvis, said.
“That tells us that the areas that have a fair amount of tourism are the most affected at this point in time.”
‘Ten people doesn’t pay the electricity bill’
Coffs Harbour restaurateur Marcus Blackwell has been in the industry for 40 years, and still finds it hard to process everything that has happened since the pandemic hit.
“On March 20 we had 36 employees. We’ve now got 12 people on JobKeeper,” he said.
Mr Blackwell owns a fine-dining restaurant, which is closed, and an attached burger outlet, which is only doing takeaway.
The recent easing of restrictions that allowed 10 people in a restaurant have not helped.
“Ten people doesn’t even pay the electricity bill, which is $5,000 a month,” he said.
He said the shutdown had been hard on staff.
“They’ve got rent to pay, car payments, some have children. It’s devastating.”
Mr Blackwell hoped further easing of restrictions could see him reopen in June, however he was concerned there could be another spike in cases and another shutdown.
“For us to restock we’re talking $30,000 to $35,000. If we get shut again, what do we do?”
Optimism for the road back
Pubs and clubs suffered some of the largest job losses as COVID-19 effectively closed their doors, apart from their bottle shops.
Director of the North Coast Hotel Group Harry Barry said he was forced to let around 150 casual staff go.
“We’ve been lucky to keep most of the full-time staff — except for the chefs — because we have bottle shops,” he said.
Mr Barry said he was feeling optimistic following the easing of restrictions last week, and hoped to bring back some of his casual workforce, but admitted it was a waiting game.
“Not having a finish date in sight has been the most difficult thing about the whole process — you can’t budget or estimate how much you can pay in wages,” he said.
“All we can do is hope that the business is big enough and strong enough to manage what we’ve lost during this period.”
Devastating, but not surprising
Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan said the job loss figures were hard to take, particularly after he spent his first 12 months in the job working to reduce one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country.
“It was devastating seeing the youth unemployment in our region go from 20 per cent down to 13 per cent in a little under a year to be then effectively totalled by this pandemic,” he said.
Mr Conaghan said the region’s strong tourism market meant the high job losses were not surprising, but he hoped the industry would recover when Australians were allowed to holiday again.
“We now have somewhat of a captive audience — people who would normally go overseas and spending those tens of thousands of dollars travelling overseas,” he said.
“Hopefully now they will travel to our regional and rural areas and spend that sort of money and really give the economy a kickstart.”
First published at The ABC Coffs Coast – Wednesday 20 May 2020. See; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-20/coffs-mid-north-coasts-highest-job-losses-since-covid-19-began/12263286