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Share of EU workers in UK hospitality falls to lowest level since 2019

The share of EU workers in the UK hospitality sector has fallen to its lowest level since 2019, leaving restaurants, hotels and pubs struggling to afford pay rises to hire domestic workers.

According to data from Fourth, a hospitality software company, EU workers now make up 28 per cent of the hospitality workforce, up from 42 per cent before the pandemic, while UK workers make up 55 per cent, down from 46 per cent in 2019 analyzed more than 700 companies.

The total number of people working in hospitality has fallen by 12 per cent since Covid began, Fourth said, noting that in absolute terms the move to UK workers was still a long way from replacing the number of EU workers who had left .

The Office for National Statistics announced last month that almost 100,000 EU citizens had left accommodation and food services in the two years to June 2021 – the highest of any industry.

David Page, chief executive of Fulham Shore, which owns restaurant chains The Real Greek and Franco Manca, said about half of the group’s 1,600 employees returned to their respective continental European countries in 2020, and 80 percent of their salaries came from the government’s furlough scheme and initially refused to return.

“We paid them 120 percent [of their salaries] to come back,” Page said, adding that the group ultimately lost 10 percent of its workforce but has since raised wages about 20 percent thanks to strong supply sales.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UKHospitality, said wages have risen by an average of 11-13 per cent compared to 2019, while the hospitality sector is grappling with soaring energy and food costs. They are also facing increasing pressure to pay off pandemic-related debt as government support programs and bankruptcy protection ended this month, she added.

Before Brexit, hospitality was one of the sectors most dependent on European labour, along with agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare. The combination of the UK’s exit from the EU and the pandemic, which has prompted many expatriate workers to return to their families, has led to acute shortages in these sectors.

An analysis of government data conducted last year estimated that as many as 1.3 million workers more than half returned to the EU from London during the pandemic.

Hotel group PPHE chief financial officer Daniel Kos said he hopes staffing issues that are beginning to make themselves felt April There was no easing in the past year, and hotels have had to limit occupancy by closing rooms or raising prices, particularly as they struggled with the lack of cleaning staff. “If a room isn’t clean, you can’t sell it,” he said.

Restaurant and hotel owners told the Financial Times that the struggle to replace EU workers has meant many have recruited many more young people, creating challenges for the pressured staff who have to train the youngsters.

Several, including food-to-go chain Pret A Manger, have also made efforts to recruit Ukrainian refugees.

PizzaExpress said 34 per cent of its employees are now under the age of 20, compared with 18 per cent pre-Covid. Zoe Bowley, chief executive, said the company has introduced “digital learning and gamification” into its education as it adapted to Gen Z preferences.

Patrick Marrinan, chief executive of noodle chain Pho, which has seen a nine-fold increase in employees under the age of 20 since 2019, said young employees prefer part-time work, which means double the amount of recruitment and training.

But, he added, Pho has been actively trying to hire younger employees with a much higher presence on newer social media platforms like TikTok. “We’ve had several TikTok videos that have gone viral for recruitment and they’ve brought a level of direct outreach that we haven’t seen in the past.”

Rising Covid cases are also posing challenges for hospitality businesses facing staff shortages, but Kos described the problem as “manageable”. Several other hospitality bosses said they would no longer mandate testing for staff.

https://www.ft.com/content/ded44c64-cfc6-45a0-a122-e7a834e9d661 Share of EU workers in UK hospitality falls to lowest level since 2019

Adam Bradshaw

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