Attempts by the Home Office to reduce net migration has meant that since April 2016, restaurants have faced a £2,000 fee on bringing in skilled workers as well as having to fit to a work permit scheme which requires a salary threshold of almost a £30,000. The impending difficulties of Brexit are set to make the situation even worse.
The British Hospitality Association published a report at the end of last year which suggested that without an easily accessible pool of workers from across the English Channel, the industry could suffer a deficit of almost one million workers within the next decade. The report claimed that the industry needed to be topped up by an extra 60,000 workers per year, on top of the 200,000 needed to maintain the industry as it already is.
The changes (or lack thereof) are affecting ethnic restaurants more so than others due to the reliance on imported labour. Chefs which had been promised by Brexit campaigners that a split from the European Union would allow for easier importation of workers from other Commonwealth countries voted to leave in the 2016 referendum, but are finding now that their pleas are falling on deaf ears. Calls have been made for a ‘Vindaloo Visa,’ which would allow chefs into the UK on short term visas, but under the May government reforms have been slow and frustrating.
However, the chef shortage predates Brexit. Josh Overington, owner of the acclaimed Le Cochon Aveugle in York, has had the place since 2014 and claims he hasn’t had a single week wherein the restaurant is fully staffed.
“It’s been a constant struggle to find chefs,” he said. “We’re a very small restaurant, we can fit four chefs in at one time, and the chef de partie has, in particular, been an elusive position. We’ve had long periods where it’s not filled, and it’s still not filled even as we speak.”
Overington attributed the chef shortage to a range of factors. “A lot of it is young chefs don’t have any patience. They just want to go straight to sous chef, head chef. Or they can sign up for an agency or work in a private home and the pay is better, the hours are better, you’re not being shouted at. You don’t really have any responsibilities and life is a lot better.”