Brexit hurting restaurants sector

By Sairah Masud

BRITAIN’s vote to leave the European Union has resulted in an unprecedented growth in jobs in the hospitality sector, also leading to a shortage of workers to fill positions.

Job vacancies in restaurants, bars and hotels – roles typically filled by continental Europeans – have increased as the number of EU workers return home, but it is taking significantly longer to fill such positions.

According to a KPMG report, EU citizens, who account for up to a quarter of the three million workers in the hospitality sector, are beginning to leave Britain due to concerns over their uncertain status in the country following the Brexit vote last year as well as the fall in value of the pound.

Paul Murphy, owner of Knight Benton Recruitment Agency, said: “It’s definitely getting worse. The lead time to fill a chef vacancy at the moment could be anything between two and six months.”

Such concerns were echoed by Sabbir Karim, owner of restaurant Salaam Namaste in London, who admitted the shortage of staff has made it tougher for businesses like his to survive.

“The Brexit referendum has really affected us and we can feel the staff crisis. We have seen a big decrease in the number of job enquiries we used to receive on a daily basis since the referendum, compared to previous years.”

With unemployment rates falling to its lowest in decades, many business owners have expressed their difficulty in hiring local workers, stating many view the hospitality sector as an ‘unattractive career path’ and are finding new ways to attract domestic labour.

Karim added: “We used to get speciality chefs from India and the subcontinent in order to give the best regional cuisine experience to our guests. However, in recent years, it has become very difficult to hire chefs.

“Sadly, the British work force is not prepared to work in the catering industry any more as its hard work and involves working unsocial hours.”

Salaam Namaste restaurant in London

With many businesses being forced to close down each year due to the worsening economic climate of the country, business owners have proposed incentives to lure in domestic labour.

Ranjit Mathrani, chairman of Indian fine-dining restaurant group MW Eat, said: “We’ve had to increase wages by in excess of 10 per cent; even then, the group is taking on less-qualified candidates, raising training costs. As a result, it is having to increase menu prices.”

According to the British Hospitality Authority (BHA), 200,000 people need to be recruited every year to make up for natural staff turnover and power the hospitality sector’s growth.

Without any new EU migration or an increase in applications from Britons, the BHA estimates the industry could face a shortfall of more than 60,000 jobs every year.

Despite statistics showing a major drift in the workforce in Britain, MP Roger Godsiff, representing Hall Green in Birmingham, believes Asian restaurants in his constituency will not be greatly affected by the Brexit decision.

“Most of the Asian restaurant businesses operating in my constituency, particularly in areas where there are large populations who originated from the Indian subcontinent, tend to try and recruit staff to fill positions which they cannot fill from within this country from the Indian subcontinent through the government’s Tier Workers Scheme rather than from the other 27 countries of Europe,” he said.

Karim, who has been operating his restaurant for 12 years and has regularly recruited talent from Europe and India, said: “I am weighing up all the options, like recruiting and training employees locally and offering them better pay and incentives. I will encourage new generations to come and join the Indian restaurant trade by offering better terms and flexible working hours.”

Since 2003 the number of people born in other EU states living in Britain has jumped from 1.26 million to 3.68 million in 2017, according to Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

Eastern Europeans accounted for almost all the increase but that trend has slowed sharply. In the 12 months to March, net migration from all countries was 246,000, down 81,000 from the previous year.