Hospitality sector hit by labour challenges

EXPATRIATE employees in Bahrain’s hospitality and tourism industry, who were forced to leave their jobs amidst the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, were “reluctant” to return to their previous employers, revealed businessmen.

This, along with a dearth of skilled Bahraini workforce in the industry, is posing a major challenge, they added, noting that the sector – worst-hit during the pandemic – was expecting a boom in 2022-2023.

Industry heavyweights were speaking during a webinar on ‘Labour and decent work challenges in the context of Covid-19’, specifically in the hospitality and tourism sector, hosted by the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) yesterday.

BCCI hospitality and tourism committee vice-chairman Ebrahim Kooheji pointed out that most of the restaurants in Bahrain lost more than 50 per cent of their workforce during the pandemic due to lack of income.

“People who left are now reluctant to come back to the industry as they found there is no job security (in the industry),” he said.

He added that most Asian employees lost their jobs as they couldn’t return as their countries were put on Bahrain’s Covid-19 red list.

The hotel industry veteran reiterated a call for a hospitality training institute to nurture Bahraini workforce.

“The local workforce in the industry dropped from almost 35pc to 16pc which is huge and a major challenge.”

Al Areen Investment Company chief executive Dr Essa Faqeeh urged innovative solutions to “unprecedented and unpredictable” challenges.

He noted that the industry was recovering with as many as five to 10 new hotels coming up annually in Bahrain, alongside several cafés and restaurants, even during the pandemic.

“Expats form 80pc of the workforce in the hospitality industry while the national workforce has dropped to 18-20pc.

“The expat workforce plays a significant role due to the limited skilled and trained Bahrainis.”

He also pointed out the challenges of getting skilled workforce from abroad trained to adapt to the cultural demands, which he added was vital to ensure 80-90pc guest satisfaction.

“We are losing skilled employees to neighbouring destinations,” he added, citing Dubai and Doha as examples.

The two professionals, along with founder and chief executive at H & J – The Experts in Hospitality Hameed Al Halwachi, were on the first of the two panel discussions which addressed the key labour challenges faced by the hospitality sector, particularly in the context of migrant/expatriate workers.

The session was moderated by Institute of Human Rights and Business Labour Rights head Julia Batho.

BCCI Committees Steering Group chairwoman Sonya Janahi called for “sound strategies” for a “smooth recovery” of the sector which was “impacted the most” in Bahrain.




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