Businesses across the country, starved for migrant labour over the last year and a half, have welcomed the news of the international border reopening with arms even wider open. The retail sector, which has traditionally relied heavily on casual labour made up largely by international students and travellers, has been among the happiest of industries, especially with Christmas season around the corner and thousands of positions open in preparation for the shopping rush.
So how much will the reopening do for the retail sector? Right now, major retailers reportedly have thousands of casual positions - both in-store and warehouse - sitting unfilled, even as the Australian Retailers Association has forecast Christmas spend of nearly $60 billion. Kmart and Officeworks have complained they are short thousands of people. On the other hand, the big players like Coles and Woolworths apparently foresaw this, and did all their hiring months in advance.
Meanwhile, between 200,000-250,000 eligible visa holders are expected to arrive once the international border opens. About three-quarters of these are international students, who mostly won't start their school terms until February or March and might want to come earlier to work over the summer months. However, the bottleneck will likely be the availability of commercial flights. All through this year, international airlines have been cancelling their commercial flights to Australia in response to caps on arrivals, and getting them back in place is going to take a while. Furthermore, priority will likely be given to returning Australians.
What this means is that the much-coveted student workers won't show up on 1 December itself, and might not even get here in time for Christmas - they'll most likely be spread out over the next few months. But then, those who do arrive will fill urgently-needed roles.
Whether these international workers can look forward to higher pay and better benefits, however, is still a bit in question. Despite the manpower shortage, retail pay hasn't gone up significantly this year - 2.1 percent or so, according to the Bureau of Statistics. This is partly due to retailers facing major cost pressures from disrupted supply chains and shipping bottlenecks, and not wanting to hike prices too high in response - meaning that workers' pay is caught in the middle. And casual international labour has even less leverage. The New Daily quoted economists as warning that the influx of new workers might depress the bargaining power of local workers, who already tend to get the short end of the stick in retail.