Hospitality ‘wage war’ amid Brexit and Covid challenges

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Some workers are commanding salaries significantly higher than last year, with one firm reportedly offering £14 per hour for a kitchen porter – at least £4 more than some of the rates being offered last year and well above the minimum wage of £8.32 per hour.

The situation faced by local firms is being mirrored across the world as pandemic-related restrictions stop migrant workers from high-risk countries from travelling.

Simon Soar, chief executive of the Jersey Hospitality Association, said that the shortage in labour was the worst it had ever been.

‘People have only recently been able to start opening up and working out what their requirement are in terms of staff. That is only becoming clear now. It has led to a wage war between businesses which is pushing labour costs up significantly and that is not good for anyone,’ he said.

He added: ‘Staff are prepared to move for a wage increase, so there are issues with staff retention and they are moving for literally pennies in some cases. We are seeing wages go up to levels a lot higher than they have ever been and doing so very quickly.

‘I saw one restaurant offering over £14 per hour for a kitchen porter the other day – you just do not get that. That is because they are desperate and cannot find anyone. Previously it could have gone up to around £10 at some places. Very rarely would it have gone above that. It is staggering.’

Mr Soar said that there was no quick fix to the problems and that, post-Brexit, hospitality firms were also now having to pay more to employ staff from outside the Common Travel Area.

He added that businesses struggling to find staff might have to start looking at altering their operations to cope – with shorter opening times, a restricted offering and whether they are able to operate in any capacity among some of the considerations.

‘Without flight costs – just the [work] permit and visa – you are looking at around £500 and then you have got to fly them in. That is a post-Brexit cost, so if you cannot get staff locally or within the Common Travel Area, then you are going to have to deal with that cost. It is going to be very difficult.’

Meanwhile, Dominic Jones, director of JPRestaurants, said that he had been finding it especially difficult to find chefs and pointed to the government’s job website, where there were yesterday 66 vacancies for the role.

‘The industry expected a lot of people to come over from Kenya but the country then went onto the UK’s ten-day quarantine red list and we cannot bring people in. If you were to ask me what our biggest challenge is, it is that we cannot get enough chefs. That is the reason why we had not previously opened the Oyster Box,’ he said.

‘But I am very optimistic for the future. I have just taken on a non-executive position and I have other roles but my full-time job is restaurants and I am sticking to it. It is tough but we are very optimistic.’

Statistics Jersey’s labour market report for December last year, which was published yesterday, revealed a decrease of 1,040 jobs in hotels, restaurants and bars for the month. It represented the second-largest change recorded in any sector throughout 2020 – with the previous largest decrease of 1,700 being set by the same industries in June last year.

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