Immigration: The thorniest of issues

The hospitality industry is up in arms over the UK government plans not to award so-called ‘low-skilled’ workers visas under post-Brexit immigration plans. There is already a staff shortage in Scotland and the new plans will, say publicans, hoteliers and restaurateurs, decimate the industry.

What exactly has Home Secretary Priti Patel proposed that has caused this reaction? Workers from European Economic Area countries currently have the right to live and work in the UK irrespective of their salary or skill level. But this will end on 31 December, when the 11-month post-Brexit transition period ends. In its place, there’ll be a points-based system.

The salary threshold for skilled workers wanting to come to the UK is being lowered from £30,000 to £25,600 and the definition of skilled workers to include those educated to A-level/Scottish Highers-equivalent standard, not just graduate level.

Overseas citizens would have to reach 70 points to be able to work in the UK. Points are being awarded for the ability to speak English and they must have the offer of a skilled job with an ‘approved sponsor’. More points would be awarded for qualifications, the salary on offer and working in a sector with shortages.
However, there are no plans for visas for workers who do not meet these criteria – in other words, all hospitality workers from all tiers of our industry.

Paul Stevenson, Owner, Paesano Pizza & Sugo said, “This is going to be catastrophic. Priti Patel does not live in the real world if she thinks that the 11 million unemployed are going to fill these jobs. It’s absolute nonsense and so far from reality, it’s frightening. I employ 200 people – 140 of whom are Italian. These are skilled workers that I won’t be able to replace.
What with this and the hike in my rates, I just feel like throwing in the towel.”

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Nicola Taylor, Chief Executive, Chardon Management commented, “I can’t believe the government has the audacity to label all these professions unskilled. If we were we’d surely be using robots by now. But we as an industry can’t automate. A robot can’t make a bed. To go digital would be very difficult – can we leave a hotel unmanned? What about the threat of fire? Plus the biggest revenue generators in for the central pot are VAT and PAYE are going to be severely affected without people working in jobs. In Scotland we need free movement, so we’re going to have to think about attracting staff from England, Wales and Ireland by reducing tax at the lower end.
“The prospect of recruiting from a global pool, while quite exciting, might not be workable. We employ 250 people – 45% of which were from the EU before the drop in sterling (many of our staff sent money home). This has decreased to 25% and this is mainly in the central belt.

This is what Nic Wood, Owner, Signature Pubs had to say: “It’s already had an impact on our business – like European workers looking for work. We have a shortage of staff, particularly in the kitchen, and this is only going to make this process even more difficult. As a company, we have already had to revise the way that we train our kitchen staff – i.e. from scratch. I don’t think for one minute that this is going to drive wages up or do away with low-skilled workers. It just means fewer people to fulfil the roles.

“We run a couple of Italian cuisine venues and Italians aren’t coming over here in droves any more looking for work, likewise those from Eastern Europe. These are all good, hard working, reliable people that saved their money and wanted to work long hours. This is a big loss to the industry and this will be challenging for the whole industry. This has also had an impact on tourism and on my foreign members of staff feeling secure enough to stay. All this uncertainty hasn’t helped us at all.”

BeatsonChequeLisa Wishart, Managing Director, Lisini Pub Co. said,
“My fear is that this is going to impact on hospitality businesses in rural parts of Scotland. I also feel that the points system and the salary threshold implies that in order to employ someone from the EU they are going to have to be paid more pro rata than a Scottish/British national.
I also fear for the future of my workforce, 5 per cent being from the EU. We also have a national shortage of chefs already, so I think that this is yet another nail in the coffin for the hospitality industry taking away the flexibility for operators to employ who they want.”

David Wither, Chairman of Montepliers said, “This is going to be challenging to our industry. We have always struggled to get housekeeping, cleaning and kitchen staff and if these proposals materialise this is only going to become even harder. I also hope that the people we currently employ from the EU are allowed to stay.”


Stephen White owner of the Kidbrooke Group said, “The UK government is taking a hard right approach to this situation – effectively denying people the opportunity to work in hospitality. This is severely disappointing. The UK government is using its large majority to push this extreme agenda that will only go to fuel xenophobia (dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries) which will be fermented, discouraging EU workers from remaining in the UK as they feel increasingly more uncomfortable.
“The last stats I saw said that there were 2.7M EU workers registered in the UK – and even if they were interested, there just aren’t enough people registered on the unemployment register in the UK to fill these roles when you whittle it down to who is fit to work.”


Michael Bergson, Owner of SoHo Bars and Restaurants, Glasgow had to say: “This is not going to do us any favours. Most small companies find it hugely challenging to recruit at all levels. Couple that with wage increases (all our staff are being paid another £1 an hour), rising costs, rates, sustainability, provenance…how much more can we take as an industry?
At no point do I want to keep  Scots out of work but certain talents do lie beyond our  shores, plus hospitality just isn’t taken seriously as an industry by all. We’re already facing a massive chef shortage at every level and these have been filled by Australians, Romanians, and Polish people who were happy to pick up these jobs. They filled gaps rather than keeping anybody else out of work. Pretty quickly the government is going to have to move back on this one or customers are going to be wondering why they’re paying £7 a pint.”


Calum-Ross-blurred optCalum Ross – GM, Hilton Glasgow said, “Clearly this is going to make life very difficult for all of us in hospitality. We have developed a real reliance on people from Eastern European countries in the last five to 10 years. If that stream of labour dries up, it is going to require a lot of operational change.
I guess that the businesses that this more specifically impacts are full-service hotels. The focus-service guys have a little more protection.”


Steve Macfarlane – Owner, Glenuig Inn said,
“We know that we are a valuable industry that generates billions for the economy. We know we employ hundreds of thousands of people. But these proposals tell us that the government doesn’t share this view. Sadly, these proposals only reinforce hospitality as an undesirable career yet if you go to Italy, say, there are waiters in their mid-50s loving what they do and making a decent living from what they deem a respectable hospitality career.
“So let’s see this as an opportunity to sort this one out once and for all and from the grassroots up, starting with education and what is taught at school about healthy career options.”


Apex ACG Rest Lounge Angela Vickers 0005Angela Vickers, Chief Executive, Apex Hotels was disappointed, “It’s disappointing to see new immigration criteria formulated without considering the requirements of the hospitality industry, a sector crucial to the country’s economy and a major employer across a range of skilled roles. EU migrants account for almost half the UK’s hospitality workforce and the new points-based system will have a huge impact on this, despite our best efforts to adapt accordingly and prepare for Brexit.
Our close links with schools and colleges to provide work experience, placement and employment opportunities; apprenticeship schemes; and targeted recruitment drives simply cannot plug the significant skills shortage that is likely to transpire. As a priority, the sector must come together to think creatively about how to overcome this impending challenge.”

Stephen Leckie, Chairman and Chief Executive, Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels commented, “I’m hoping that the government will re-think this. Apart from being offensive about low-skilled workers, the proposed points system just won’t work. On average 1 in 5 of our workforce are from foreign countries and the government have said that we should find and train local folk – if you can show me the local folk are I’d be delighted to employ them.
In some of our hotels, we provide live-in accommodation, including food and drink and if we removed these folk, then the business would have to close.
“If we were to pay the proposed minimum wage, which in round figures is £12 per hour times a 40 hour week, it would add another £4M onto our payroll figure so we would have to increase our revenue by 25 per cent overnight. I can assure you – if we could do this we would. If our business is a microcosm of what is going on elsewhere, then other hotels will have to do the same.”

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