Reports suggest the NSW government could be set to remove certain Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements as hospitality battles staff shortages.

State Treasurer Matt Kean is said to be considering cutting ‘red tape’ in a bid to ease the pathway to hospitality employment for school-leavers and backpackers.

Plans published on January 19 could see bar and wait staff allowed to serve alcohol without a valid Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA), so long as they are supervised by a RSA-holding manager.

The proposed scheme comes on the back of a federal government announcement that backpackers and students (traditionally strong recruitment pools for hospitality) will be offered a rebate on their visa fees, in a bid to entice temporary visa holders back to Australia.

Justine Baker, Chair of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), said she welcomed any move to reduce barriers to hospitality employment. Nevertheless, she maintains reservations about the effectiveness of such a scheme.

“This is a minor solve of a complex issue. A major barrier to working in hospitality during these turbulent times is confidence in employment, young people want to know they have regular shifts and a bankable income,” said Baker.

Likewise, Karl Schlothauer, President of the Independent Bars Association (IBA) of NSW believes any RSA suspension is unlikely to tackle the greater issues hospitality is facing.

“Every little bit helps at the moment and perhaps it will encourage more people to venture into hospitality.

“However, skilled staff shortages have long been a major issue for the industry – long before the pandemic – and this something we really need to address.”

Schlothauer also fears that too little is being done by government to solve the economic chaos that Omicron is wreaking on members of the IBA.

“The financial effect of the Omicron wave has been far more severe [than earlier waves]. With consumer confidence to go out at an all-time low, we’re concerned this ‘shadow lockdown’ may be the nail in the coffin for many bars who have slogged it out for the past two years.”

“It took the CBD 10 months to recover from the first wave and without immediate financial support, we may not make it through to the other side to recover this time.”

Similarly to Schlothauer and Baker, John Green, the Director of Liquor and Gaming for Australian Hotels Association (AHA) NSW, said his organisation would be happy to look at this proposal.

“This is reported to be a temporary measure to get new staff into the industry quickly by removing red tape,” Green stated.

Green also was keen to stress that consumer welfare remains a priority of the industry.

“These staff still have to be under supervision, but it’s not like they’ll be mixing cocktails on day one. With staff shortages due to Omicron, having these staff able to deliver drinks ordered on apps such as Me&U as well as picking up glasses and serving meals frees up trained staff for other duties.

“It also gives these new staff an insight into the hospitality industry.”

Baker believes the reported proposal offers the industry an opportunity to scrutinise the merits of the current RSA system: “RSA training was developed many years ago and the content hasn’t really moved with the times, we operate very different businesses with far more sophistication and a greater focus on the customer.”

“This is an opportunity to look at a new version of induction training for the industry that captures a modern night out as well as conflict resolution and duty of care to customers.”

Green also notes that the RSA is just one tool in hospitality’s repertoire: “The responsible service of alcohol is important to licensed premises trade, but on-the job training is equally important in terms of customer service and hospitality.”

And that in the end, owners and operators will still be required to abide by existing laws and regulation: “Licensees retain full responsibility for their premises under liquor laws and that includes actions of their staff.”

Schlothauer concurs, again reasserting that a more significant problem facing hospitality is the dearth of highly skilled staff.

“Customers have been happy to wait a little longer for a cocktail, but they’re not happy when they find out on the day of their booking that the venue is closed due to skilled staff shortages,” Schlothauer stated.

As it stands, any suspension of RSA requirements is hypothetical, but industry groups will be keeping a close and critical eye on any developments.

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