ABP Cafe (Thailand), the operator of the Au Bon Pain bakery and coffee chain in Thailand, plans to join with other food and beverage operators to seek assistance from the Labour Ministry in order to solve the current worker shortage.
The company wants the government to speed up the approval process for foreign employees, which normally takes about three to six months, said Nadim Xavier Salhani, the company’s chief executive.
Mr Salhani wants speedier approval of foreign workers by the government and the ability to include non-compete clauses in contracts.
If the Thai government gave its full support to the food industry like the Singapore government does, it would ensure restaurants expand further, which would improve the overall economy, he said.
Mr Salhani attributed the staff shortage in the food industry to university graduates’ changing attitudes, as they prefer to run their own businesses rather than working for others.
“The daily minimum wage increase throughout the country is causing workers to return to their hometowns,” he said.
Furthermore, an influx of international food and beverage chains in Thailand has stretched the workforce even thinner.
“Many bakery and coffee firms recruit staff from the same pool as Au Bon Pain, which has been established in Thailand for 15 years,” he said.
“We not only lose experienced staff but also recipe secrets they take with them.”
Mr Salhani said a broad discussion with operators in the bakery business will take place before forwarding the issue to the Labour Ministry.
The two priorities for the firm are urging the government to accelerate foreign worker approvals, and imposing a non-compete clause that prohibits a person from working for another firm in the same industry within a year after resignation.
He added the firm would continue its expansion with 10 new Au Bon Pain outlets, bringing the total to 60 this year. The additional outlets will hire between 100-150 new staff and require an investment of 35-40 million baht.
The company will sign a memorandum of understanding with 10 colleges next Thursday to draw graduates to work for Au Bon Pain.
Mr Salhani said although competition is intensifying, he believes the Thai market still has room for growth thanks to changing lifestyles.
Au Bon Pain’s sales rose 29% last year, and another 20% growth is expected in 2013.
The company is considering asking its parent firm for the right to open branches in Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia in the future.