A hung parliament may be a blessing for hospitality industry, says Des Mclaughlin
While hung parliaments are not popular – as they limit power and the ability to push through mandates, the recent election result may yet be a blessing for the hospitality industry. The Conservatives’ desire for a hard Brexit is likely now to be softened, meaning that there could be a relaxing around current views on EU migrants.
The UK hospitality sector is the fourth largest employer in the UK and is hugely reliant on immigration.
The British Hospitality Association (BHA) recently commissioned KPMG to look at the industry post Brexit and they stated that any squeeze on EU migration would lead to a rolling 60,000 a year shortfall in workers. This is despite allowing for an ageing UK workforce with the retirement age increasing to 70 and more disabled people joining the sector. Approximately 700,000 of the industry’s work force are EU nationals, in an industry of over 4.5m workers so the figure sounds understated to me and I think we have a far larger black hole.
The KPMG study – which has been sent to Number 10 – says that 75% of waiting staff in the UK, 37% of house-keeping staff and a quarter of all chefs are from the EU. Last month the sandwich and coffee chain Pret a Manger revealed that only one in 50 of its applicants is British and 65% of its workforce are EU nationals. Worrying statistics indeed.
The hotel industry has always largely been a reactive one. It was slow to understand the power of the internet, for example, allowing their rooms to be controlled by online booking agents. Similarly, most hotels’ approach to training and career development lags well behind other sectors and pay is far too often based around the minimum wage and little else. Given this, why would people join the industry if they can be better better paid and looked after elsewhere?
A couple of years ago I was asked to join a committee to promote the living wage in hotels, a campaign I fully support. When talking to hoteliers though I heard excuse after excuse as to why they couldn’t afford to pay their staff the living wage of £8.45 an hour in the UK and £9.75 an hour in London. You try living on that, I know I couldn’t begin to. There are of course exceptions, and employers such as Tim Chudley at The Sundial Group has long championed the living wage but he is, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule.
With employment at a record high and Britain’s relatively fast growing economy creating millions of new jobs the idea that EU migrants have displaced British workers is a myth. There is no army of unemployed Brits waiting to enter our industry. The hospitality sector needs to re-think its recruitment practices, although I’m not convinced that this will happen until it’s too late.
It seems to me that a soft Brexit offers the best hope for the hospitality industry to remain staffed, until it finally tackles pay and conditions.