Moyne Shire Council is helping staff-strapped Port Fairy businesses stay open through peak season, offering cheap employee accommodation at its Southcombe Caravan Park through December and January.
Many south-west employers have struggled to find workers for at least the past year, with long-term housing shortages preventing prospective employees from moving to the region.
Following a 2021-22 summer season where several short-staffed Port Fairy businesses were forced to close during the busiest time of the year and many others had to reduce their opening hours, the council has stepped in to help up to 20 workers ply their trade in the popular tourist town.
The Work and Play program offers cut-price rates for businesses at the Southcombe Lodge accommodation, which is popular with school groups during term time, but is less busy in the middle of summer.
Merrijig co-owner Liz Foreman has used the lure of secure accommodation to nab out-of-town chef Cameron McLeod for the holiday period. She said the extra staff member would make an enormous difference at a frantic time.
"We are actually really lucky here to have a stable team, I know there are a lot of businesses struggling to find any staff. But getting Cam allows us to go above and beyond and stay open without risking burning our staff out," she said.
"Having an extra pair of hands in the kitchen will make such a difference for (head chef and partner) Tanya (Connellan)."
The council only advertised the program a month or two ago, but six businesses had already signed up. Ms Foreman said everything was signed off the day after the application deadline and Mr McLeod had already moved in.
"The ability to say to him that we could provide accommodation made it so much easier. He absolutely jumped at it," she said.
"The contract is between us and the council, so we can just build the cost into his contract, it's a real win-win."
She said convincing Mr McLeod to stay beyond January would be the next hurdle.
"We actually have a chef who is going on maternity leave in February, so we will be trying to get Cam to stay on, but that all depends on him finding a place to live longer term," she said.
Moyne Shire mayor Karen Foster said the staffing shortage last summer had risked Port Fairy's reputation, so she was excited by how popular the program had been.
"If businesses have staff and can offer their full, or expanded, services it means Port Fairy will be at its best for locals and visitors to enjoy and ensure Port Fairy remains a premier summer holiday destination," she said.
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