Restaurant Pendolino's Nino Zoccali on fighting the changes to the 457 visa

Nino Zoccali, The Restaurant Pendolino.

Sydney chef and restaurateur of The Restaurant Pendolino and La Rosa The Strand, Nino Zoccali, is furious over the changes to the 457 visa.

He recently appeared on the ABC's Lateline with Rockpool Dining Group's Neil Perry, and former president of the Migration Institute of Australia, Angela Chan, to discuss the impact on the hospitality sector.

After the show aired, foodservice caught up with Zoccali to find out about his views on the changes and what he believes the industry can do as a whole to fight them.

Why are 457 visas important to the foodservice sector?

457 visas supply critical personnel to businesses that require them to operate. The huge shortage of appropriately skilled Australian residents and citizens in the sector means that they play a central role in the industry.

What is your understanding of the changes made by the Federal Government?

The 457 program has been abolished with a raft of changes that will only serve to restrict the supply of quality foreign workers.

Of particular concern is the loss of permanent residency pathways for key occupations and the changes to the English skills requirements (IELTS). Key industry innovators and leaders simply wouldn’t get into Australia nowadays on the new rules.

Chefs in the kitchen at Zoccali's La Rosa The Strand.

What could the government do to prevent a worsening of the skills shortage?

There is a lot that the government needs to do quickly. Firstly, all occupations that had pathways to permanent residency (PR) prior to the announcement of the abolition of the 457 program need to be reinstated onto lists with the PR pathway (particularly managers, pastry chefs and cooks).

The English language requirement changes also need to be reviewed and relaxed as they are now simply ridiculous (a chef now requires university level English to achieve permanent residency).

Further, student graduate visas (485) need to be extended to enable a pathway, albeit a much longer pathway post the changes, for students to be able to transition to chef trade sponsorships with the PR pathway.  

Why should the foodservice industry be concerned about the changes?

The changes will only lead to a significant worsening of the very serious skilled labour supply problem the industry is currently experiencing.

The situation is accentuated for high-end establishments as the changes particularly discourage the most talented international hospitality professionals from coming to Australia which can only be bad for everyone concerned.

The likely impacts will be on cost (marked increases over time), quality (dropping across the board) and decreased diversity and creativity. Without the adequate resources to do great things, the industry will be seriously disadvantaged and it will ultimately be felt by the customer.  

How many staff are currently in your employment? How many are currently on 457 visas?

About 76, eight currently are on 457 plus three on 457 de facto visas.

The dining room at La Rosa The Strand.

What are 457 visa success stories of former staff who have gone on to other endeavours?

Most are excellent stories as they usually grow within the business and transition to a successful life in Australia. One is now the Pendolino restaurant general manager.

How do you believe the changes will effect your business and venues?

I think the outcome is pretty clear to all. I think all service standards across the industry will start to decline if there is further restriction on skilled labour supply.

The restriction of skilled foreign workers in the hospitality sector in Australia will ultimately have a significant impact on the cost, quality, creativity and diversity of the offer in Australia.

And it stands to seriously impact the international reputation of the tourism and hospitality industries – which our federal government has invested millions of dollars into, with the likes of the Restaurant Australia campaign and the bid to host the World’s 50 Best awards night.

If we don’t deliver on our promise to deliver the best food and service possible, diners (and tourists) won’t come back. And that’s something that I think that the government should be very concerned about.

What impact do you hope the Lateline episode will have on the industry and country at large?

I hope it prompts the government to modify the changes significantly. There are a lot of unintended consequences to these changes and we really want to avoid the grave problems that are likely to come with them.

What action do you suggest operators and foodservice professionals take regarding 457 visas?

I think that the whole industry needs to be vocal. Every operator I talk to (and of course staff too) is seriously concerned and they need to speak up about the gravity of the implications of the changes.