For many business sectors across the UK, Brexit is a concerning prospect. From fears over trade restrictions to doubts over sourcing the raw materials required to do business, every sector sits in anticipation to see how events will unfold. But for the hospitality sector in particular, the worry isn’t with their supply of materials essential to carry out their jobs, such as disposable cutlery and other kitchen equipment, their major concern involves the extent of the impact Brexit will have on their workforce.
Throughout the EU Referendum, one of the fundamental aspects was how migrant workers were seen. For some voters, a major concern and key decision-making factor for voting Leave boiled down to the ‘issue of immigration’ — a YouGov poll on the day of the vote recorded 26% of people allude to this reason.
An alternative survey conducted by the Centre for Social Investigation in 2018 saw around 3,000 respondents ranking four motives that influenced their decision to vote Leave. The reasons provided were ranked in order as follows:
- I wanted the UK to regain control over EU immigration
- I didn’t want the EU to have any role in UK law-making
- I didn’t want the UK sending any more money to the EU
- I wanted to teach British politicians a lesson
At present, the EU’s freedom of movement policy outlines that workers within the EU, including the UK, can emigrate and move between countries for work and travel without the need of a visa or work permit. This is set to end in 2019, with EU workers being treated the same as any other foreign worker seeking a job within the UK. Prime Minister Theresa May recently promised the end of free movement, with high-skilled workers being prioritised and no preferential treatment being given to EU applicants compared to applicants from the rest of the world. But what about low-skilled jobs? The hospitality industry relies on vital low-skilled jobs being filled. How will Brexit impact this?
The requirement for migrants to apply for a visa for low-skilled work has caused concern for many businesses in the UK over what the future holds. Currently, the UK operates a five-tier approach to its visas:
- Tier 1 — this covers high-value migrants. People who are internationally recognised in the science or arts, entrepreneurs looking to set up or be involved in running a business in the UK, and investors. Currently, high-skilled workers are closed out from this tier.
- Tier 2 — this covers high-skilled workers when a job cannot be filled by a person within the UK. Ministers, priests, elite athletes and coaches with international recognition, and transfer employees from multi-national businesses are also covered in this category.
- Tier 3 — this covers low-skilled workers during temporary shortages, but this tier is suspended and not in use.
- Tier 4 — this tier covers adult students aged 16 or over for studying at university and such.
- Tier 5 — this covers temporary workers, including voluntary charity work.
Due to Tier 3 currently being suspended, after Brexit, hiring EU workers for low-skilled jobs will no longer be possible.
Low-skilled jobs and the hospitality industry
Jobs that are low-skilled are those that wouldn’t meet the criteria for a Tier 2 visa, covering high-skilled jobs. Let’s first look at what a high-skilled job is in the UK.
In order to be allowed a Tier 2 visa, a migrant worker (currently outside of the EU, until the UK leaves the EU) must:
- Be sponsored by their employer.
- Be paid the minimum salary. Currently, this is £30,000 per annum, unless the role is as a medical radiographer, nurse, secondary education teaching professional for certain subjects, or a paramedic. In this case, £20,800 per annum or the appropriate rate for the job, whichever is higher.
- Prove their knowledge of English.
- Have personal savings amounting to £945 for 90 days prior to applying.
- Show travel and proof of travel over the last five years.
- In some cases, have a tuberculosis test.
- Provide a criminal record certificate, for some jobs.
- Have an RQF Level 6 grade (minimum undergraduate degree).
If you consider that the average full-time wage in the UK is around £28,000, it’s not surprising that there are several jobs that fall short of being classed as ‘high skilled’ by the above outline! Low-skilled jobs within the hospitality industry include cooks, receptionists, hotel assistant, bar staff, cleaners, and more.
With an abundance of roles within the hospitality industry deemed ‘low-skilled’ by existing guidelines, and with an estimated 500,000 EU citizens currently employed in low-skilled jobs, this will impact the hospitality workforce significantly.
Jobs that EU workers are currently filling in UK hospitality
Figures reported on by the Guardian revealed that 120,000 EU nationals are currently filling basic hospitality and coffee shop roles, while 74,000 worked in food processing. On average, it’s estimated 12.5-25 per cent of hotel workers are EU nationals, though some hotels and restaurants can see highs of 35-40 per cent.
But a recent YouGov survey showed that 11% of hospitality workers are already debating leaving the UK.
Net migration numbers are falling across all sectors, with 2.25 million EU nationals working across all UK sectors from July to September 2018 — a fall of 132,000 on the previous year. But there were 1.24 million non-EU nationals working in the UK for the same period, which is an increase of 34,000 on the previous year. EU net migration is at its lowest since 2012, and non-EU net migration is at its highest since 2004.
Less EU workers in hospitality, more jobs for UK citizens?
Some may wonder what the real impact of Brexit would be on the hospitality industry. Yes, some workers may choose to leave, but that would surely open up so many jobs for UK citizens, right?
Not necessarily, says the British Hospitality Association.
Recently, Pret a Manger noted that only 1 in 50 applicants for its vacancies were British. The issues, says their human resources director in a comment to the Guardian, was not in selecting, but attracting.
The underlying problem appears to be the British view on such work. For many, working in hospitality is simply not an aspiration. It’s not that the jobs aren’t there, it is that we aren’t applying for them. Concerns over long hours, low pay, and high stress, however accurate or not, seem to be turning British people away from hospitality jobs.
Will the eventual impact of Brexit really cause as much chaos for the hospitality industry as predicted? Or will British workers step into future roles and keep the sector ticking over? Only time will tell.