For several, if not every business sector across the Britain, Brexit is an uncertain prospect. From concerns about trade restrictions to worries about sourcing raw materials needed for business, each sector is holding its breath to see how things will pan out. However, for the hospitality sector, the worry isn’t to do with their supply of materials essential to carry out their jobs, such as disposable cutlery, refuse sacks and other kitchen and cleaning equipment. Instead, the biggest fear surrounds the impact that Brexit may have on their workforce.
During the 2016 EU Referendum, one of the key factors was voters’ views on migrant workers. For some people, one of the main concerns and fundamental deciding factors for voting Leave boiled down to the ‘issue of immigration’ — a YouGov poll on the day of the vote saw 26% of people citing this reason.
The Centre for Social Investigation conducted a survey in 2018 which saw around 3,000 respondents ranking four reasons for their decision to vote Leave. The offered reasons were ranked in the following order:
- 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
Presently, the European Union’s freedom of movement policy allows workers from the EU (including the UK) to immigrate and move between EU countries for work and travel without needing 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?
Requirements to apply for low-skilled visas work has caused many UK businesses to grow increasingly concerned over the future. 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.
With Tier 3 currently suspended, after Brexit, hiring people from the EU for low-skilled work will no longer be possible.
The hospitality industry and low-skilled jobs
Low-skilled jobs are ones that wouldn’t meet the criteria for Tier 2 visas, covering high-skilled jobs. Let’s first look at what a high-skilled job is in the UK.
For a migrant worker (currently outside of the EU, until the UK leaves the EU) to have eligibility to obtain a Tier 2 visa, they 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 we consider that the average full-time wage in the UK is around £28,000, there are numerous jobs that fall short of being categorised as ‘high skilled’ by the outline above. Low-skilled jobs within the hospitality industry include cooks, receptionists, hotel assistant, bar staff, cleaners, and more.
As a great number of roles in the hospitality sector are deemed ‘low-skilled’ jobs by current guidelines, and with an estimated 500,000 EU citizens currently employed in these, this will surely have a significant impact on the hospitality workforce.
Hospitality jobs EU workers currently occupy in the UK
Figures reported on by the Guardian disclosed that 120,000 EU nationals currently work in basic hospitality and coffee shop based roles, while a further 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 revealed that 11% of hospitality workers are already debating leaving the UK.
Figures of net migration are collectively dropping across all sectors, with 2.25 million EU nationals working across all British sectors between July and 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.
Decreasing EU workers in hospitality – increasing opportunity for British citizens?
It’s wondered what Brexit’s real impact will be on hospitality as an industry. Yes, some workers may choose to leave, but that would surely open up so many jobs for UK citizens, right?
This isn’t necessarily the case, says the British Hospitality Association.
Sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger recently stated that only one in 50 applicants for its vacant positions were actually from the UK. The issues, says their human resources director in a comment to the Guardian, was not in selecting, but attracting.
The apparent problem seems to be how the British view such work. For many, working in hospitality is simply not an aspiration. It’s not that the jobs aren’t there, we just 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.
So, will Brexit’s ensuing impact actually be as damaging to the hospitality sector as first predicted? Or will British workers step into future roles and keep the sector ticking over? We are sure to begin to see over the next few months.