Whatever your thoughts on Priti Patel, and I imagine you currently have some thoughts, the new immigration plan is a damaging development in the ongoing battle for hospitality to recruit and retain talent.
On Wednesday the home secretary revealed the government’s new points and salary based immigration system, which says unless you speak English and have the offer of a job that pays over £25,600, you aren’t coming in.
Taken at face value, for the hospitality industry that’s ridiculous and potentially catastrophic. The average full-time wage for hourly paid staff in hospitality is £18,950. Over 60% of restaurant staff hail from outside the UK, it’s 33% in pubs. So the reaction to the news from the industry was quick and blunt.
“Disastrous” was the verdict of UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls. “It will lead to reduced levels of service for customers and business closures.”
There was much more on the subject from many others, and the opprobrium that headed Patel’s way yesterday will carry on for a while yet.
Not least because the proposed plan will only exacerbate what Nicholls described as the “acute labour shortage” in hospitality – a growing problem that’s already presenting a huge challenge for the industry.
But also, while discussing the news, Patel upset hospitality workers by suggesting they have a low skill set.
Of course searing a steak isn’t the same as a surgeon wielding a scalpel, but it does require skill. It’s hard to think of any job that doesn’t, so maybe it’s best to consider that particular aspect of the situation as a semantic spin-off. Or, as Hawksmoor co-founder Will Beckett called it, a “poor use of words”.
And while it is just that, the row doesn’t threaten to cause the sort of chaos that could ensue if the government actually puts its plan into action.
Yes, the legislation will only apply to new applicants, but the hospitality workforce is constantly churning – according to wage specialists Fourth the average time spent in a role is 14 months.
So how to fill the inevitable hole? Patel suggested yesterday that the 8.5 million “economically inactive” people in the UK could fill it, and that’s a laudable objective.
The trouble is, rather than sending millions of workshy layabouts on the scrounge into employment – catnip to some Tories – it was quickly pointed out that the 8.5 million figure includes 2.3 million students, 2.1 million long-term sick, 1.1 million retirees and 1.9 million looking after their family or home. So forget that.
So a hole remains, and if you’re wondering how it’s possible that such an apparent lack of understanding exists in the government over sectors that employ so many migrant workers, you won’t be alone today.
Particularly when you consider how vocal and dedicated lobbyists like Kate Nicholls at UK Hospitality, or Ian Wright at the FDF, are on issues affecting food and drink, including employment.
Plus the situation has been looming ever since the UK voted to leave the EU. It’s seems impossible that the government are unaware of the dire staffing situation this policy could spark across so many sectors.
What we do know for sure is that for all the hard-nosed political posturing yesterday, the legislation does allow for loopholes and leeway. In specific sectors or situations where the result of the new regulations could result in a shortage of labour, rules will be bent. Extra points could be awarded or short-term visas issued. And it seems inevitable the hospitality industry will find itself in this situation.
This post-Brexit government has to appear to be taking a tough stance on immigration. Sweeping changes were required to satisfy the rabid. But usefully it can also quietly keep the status quo if needs be. And when it comes to hospitality, it will need to. Let’s hope it does.
A damaging development? Or political posturing?
Whatever your thoughts on Priti Patel, and I imagine you currently have some thoughts, the new immigration plan is a damaging development in the ongoing battle for hospitality to recruit and retain talent. On Wednesday the home secretary revealed the government’s new points and salary based immigration system, which says unless you speak English and have the offer of a job that pays over £25,600, you aren’t coming in.