Is the UK hospitality sector ready for an EU worker exodus?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th June 2019

Late last year, a UK government whitepaper suggested imposing a £30,000 threshold for skilled EU migrants wishing to access the UK job market after Brexit.

It was justified under the pretence that employers had become reliant on low-skilled workers from the EU and labelled as a means of driving up wages for British workers.

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But in the face of severe staff shortages, trade bodies have warned that it could have a highly detrimental effect on the hospitality sector.

Earlier this week, home secretary Sajid Javid ordered a review of the proposal, suggesting that different regions could be capped at different levels. Environment secretary Michael Gove said immigration rules should apply to different industries, namely sectors which rely heavily on EU workers.

Why £30,000?

General manager of Galvin at the Windows and founder of food and service industry campaign National Waiters Day, Fred Sirieix, called the proposal "proposterous." 

The maître d' said the £30,000 sum is "totally arbitrary," out of touch with reality and a reflection of the anti-immigration sentiment that drove the EU referendum.

"It's goes to show what Brexit is about," he said. "It's anti-EU people. What have EU people done against the UK?" 

"We're going backwards. I don't think it's good, I think people watch TV in Italy, in France, in Germany, all over the world and they make up their mind. It's just that we are going backwards. We're going back in the caves. It's just very sad."

What effect would the cap have on the industry?

UK salaries for hospitality work are some of the lowest in the world – with only a small percentage earning more than the £30,000 threshold. Among the lowest paid are KPs, receptionists, housekeepers and waiters – and they make up the bulk of the staff in any organisation.

The industry is already lacking a skilled workforce from within Britain, and, according to the maître d', since the 2016 Brexit vote, it has become harder to find EU workers too.

"Before, people used to come to learn English, they used to come because it was fun but now because we're sending that vibe out - we already see that people don't come as much as they did anymore."

"I have problems finding staff. You don't find British staff for a start - and it's getting more and more difficult to find EU staff."

Is it realistic to expect that salaries would go up if the cap were imposed?

For organisations to increase salaries, they would either have to accept a loss of income – which many cash-tight business can rarely afford – or they would be forced to charge more for their services – may it be food in restaurants, or hotel accommodation.

Do we have enough people to fill the positions in question?

If it was difficult to find enough staff to work in the industry before, Brexit could make it even harder.

All suggestions of a salary threshold aside, what could the UK government do to drive the UK hospitality sector?

If UK's next prime minister decides to plough on with the party's net migration target of 100,000 a year,  for Fred Sirieix, investing in professional education is a must, otherwise the industry's staff shortage will only get worse.  

"This is the complete and utter silliness of the whole thing," he said. 

"One thing we say is we don't want immigrants or if they come they've got to be paid £30,000. On the one hand, you definitely reduce immigration -  people will not come because people will not be employed -  but on the other hand you don't do anything to educate your own workforce and your own people." 

It is for this reason that the maître d' founded National Waiters Day in 2012 - to find more staff. And yet, he said, since then, not only has the Brexit vote reduced the number of EU workers coming to the UK, but "there has been no investment in professional education for us to educate the young people of this country." 

Could tax reduction be a solution?

If increasing salaries isn't a possibility, Fred Sirieix suggests that the government cut income tax for hospitality workers.

"That would be a way to boost staffing because at the end of the day, people need money to live."

"If you can't do that within their salary, we should do this via the service charge. Service charge should be completely tax-free," he said.  

"It's just infuriating that people are thinking like this." 

What do you think chefs? Should the UK government rethink the proposal or scrap it completely?  What else should be done to bolster the hospitality sector?

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th June 2019

Is the UK hospitality sector ready for an EU worker exodus?