Anti-Brexit Hospitality Industry Fears Losing Cheap Labor

The British Hospitality Association has launched a series of complaints against the British government and in particular the immigration minister, Brandon Lewis. The main body of the complaint appears to be that with the end of Free Movement in 2021 (as the UK leaves the EU); there will be a shortage of hospitality staff such as waiters and baristas.

The organization states that pubs, bars, and restaurants will be at a disadvantage because a new qualification in the form of an apprenticeship scheme will not be launched until 2022. But critics are suggesting that this does not have anything to do with staff replacement and training, but rather is a politically motivated scare story to encourage the government to make concessions on the free movement of people from the EU.

The argument appears to be that companies who presently employ foreign staff over British staff will “find it impossible” to replace workers who may leave after Britain’s relationship with the EU ends. They suggest that as many in the industry hire a vast majority of EU nationals, when the UK leaves, they will have to begin training and replacement with workers who may not be interested in the jobs.

Pret a Manger, one of the UK’s largest hospitality groups, have mentioned that only one in fifty job applicants are British; yet they have not changed policies to encourage more native applicants.

Ufi Ibrahim, the chief executive of the BHA, wrote a letter to the education minister saying:

“We are not in a position to fill these vacancies without hiring non-UK workers.”

“This is due to the fact that the UK is currently at near full employment and because the educational system does not encourage young people to consider a career in hospitality.”

“It was my hope that the new catering and hospitality T-level would address the latter point so I was dismayed to find out that these qualifications have been delayed,” she said.

Critics, in response, have said that this is not an accurate reflection of the situation. They say that the new qualification would not encourage more people to work in the industry, and would, in fact, be even more of a deterrent as businesses would begin to require staff to gain the qualification before entrance.

Many are questioning the motivations of the BHA. Suggestions that the way to replace EU workers would be to pay a better wage are rampant. People on both sides of the political spectrum would like to see hospitality workers better engaged in society, and that taking advantage of an oversupply of cheap labor is a situation of their own making.

The BHA has over 45,000 members and has been known to be an effective pressure group against (or for) the government. A large proportion of their membership is made up of EU nationals, and they would likely suffer a loss of influence if immigration restrictions were brought in.

The initial leaving of the EU was due to take place in March, 2019 at the end of the Article 50 negotiating period; but with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent speech in Florence, it appears that this has been pushed back to 2021. Her government has openly stated that there will be little or no impact on citizens currently employed in the UK. This means that the hospitality industry will NOT lose staff, rather that they will find it more difficult to hire new staff at the same wages.

It has often been remarked upon during the last two years of the Brexit referendum, that an oversupply of “cheap foreign labor” has lead to a suppression of wages, meaning in most careers that the minimum wage has become the de facto maximum wage. Companies that are unwilling to pay staff at a higher rate, or provide pay raises to retain staff are keen on keeping the continued free movement of people and workers from Europe as they will therefore never have to engage in a debate on how to pay more or retain staff.

When there is a scarcity of workers in the marketplace, it becomes a good situation for the people working, and not so good for the corporations. When the reverse is true, corporations can keep workers on lower wages regardless of inflation or increases in the cost of living.

This is another move by Big Business to protect their own interests. The government-sponsored “Project Fear” that has been unleashed on the British people to encourage them to change their minds on the Brexit referendum result has not, in fact, stopped.

A similar situation has occurred in the US whereby companies are bemoaning the fact they now have to hire American workers for seasonal positions at a higher wage due to restrictions on visas.

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