Pro-Brexit Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin calls for more EU migration

Brexit cheerleading Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin calls for more EU migration to help bars and restaurants cope with staffing crisis – as business leader says workers are happy ‘sitting on furlough getting 80% pay’

  • Britain’s hospitality sector is battling with a severe shortage of workers
  • Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has called for more migration from EU countries
  • Boss of Best Western revealed hotels have not been able to open at full capacity
  • Workers either returned to EU countries or have been ‘sitting on furlough’ 

Wetherspoon chief Tim Martin has called for more EU migration to help bars and restaurants manage an ongoing staffing crisis. 

Britain’s hospitality sector has been battling with a shortage of 188,000 workers while demand continues to skyrocket as restrictions ease. 

Mr Martin, a vocal supporter of the Brexit campaign, today urged Boris Johnson to impose a ‘reasonably liberal immigration system’ to help fill jobs.

It comes as the boss of Best Western, Rob Paterson, revealed some of its hotels have not been able to open to full capacity because there aren’t enough cleaners.

Workers either returned to the EU during lockdown or have been happily ‘sitting on furlough’ and earning 80 per cent of their pay while enjoying the sunshine, according to a Chamber of Commerce chief. 

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin today urged Boris Johnson (pictured together in 2019) to impose a ‘reasonably liberal immigration system’ to help fill jobs

Mr Martin, who has always held a pro-EU immigration stance even while supporting Brexit, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.’  

Suzanne Caldwell, managing director of the Chamber of Commerce in Cumbria, said workers aren’t looking for job in hospitality because the furlough scheme is still in place. 

She revealed other workers ‘are just not here’ after returning to families in the EU when their job security plummeted because of frequent lockdowns.

One recruitment agency saw 75,000 roles added to their roster in the month of May alone as the beleaguered sector searched for workers to keep up with rising demand.

James Reed, of REED recruitment, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme ‘as long as furlough is paying out it’s going to be harder to recruit workers’.

He added 30 per cent of workers pre-pandemic were over the age of 50, with many since making the decision to retire.

Britain’s hospitality sector has been battling with a shortage of 188,000 workers while demand continues to skyrocket as restrictions ease. Pictured, a Wetherspoon in Rochdale in 2020

‘The pandemic has caused a lot of older workers to retire or reduce their hours. We’ve seen a lot of those people leave the workforce,’ he said.

‘I suppose it’s important to encourage them back and we have also got a lot of people still on furlough as the statistics suggest.’

He revealed the agency has ‘has more jobs in the month of May this year than we’d had in any month since February 2008’ and described it as ‘a huge change’.  

‘There are people but they’re not necessarily in the right place and they’re not necessarily available,’ he added. 

Ms Caldwell told BBC Radio 4 the shortfall was an ‘absolutely massive problem’ with ‘anyone you speak to who employs staff’ suffering.

She added: ‘We have businesses, particularly manufacturers, reporting that people are sitting on furlough and are actually quite okay on 80 per cent of their salary. They’re not looking for a job. We were very reliant on EU workers.’ 

Mr Martin wants the Prime Minister to set up a visa scheme to allow workers from EU countries to easily come back and work in the UK.

One recruitment agency saw 75,000 roles added to their roster in the month of May alone as a beleaguered sector searched for workers to keep up with rising demand. Pictured, a Wetherspoon in London that was shut during lockdown

He added: ‘America, Australia and Singapore have benefited for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works.’ 

In 2016, just days before the EU referendum, Mr Martin said his ‘own personal stance’ was that ‘anyone who’s working here now legally is perfectly entitled to stay’.

Polish hospitality workers left the UK after businesses went bust – but have already started to return, restaurant boss says

Polish workers who left the UK during lockdown are already back because the hospitality sector is in freefall there, says a businessowner.

Damian Wawrzyniak, who owns the House of Feasts restaurant, a bakery, street food kiosk and retail shop in Peterborough, revealed workers from Poland are already back in the UK.

Damian Wawrzyniak, who owns the House of Feasts restaurant

He told MailOnline: ‘Hospitality is in much worse shape in Poland than in the UK’. 

Mr Wawrzyniak said recruitment in the UK was a ‘massive issue’ because of lockdown and Brexit. 

He added: ‘The biggest problem why people don’t want to work in hospitality is because it’s not treated like a profession. If it was then people would like to work.

‘I had a lady who quit just before the pandemic kicked off and she wants to come back to me. She was a chef, then she went to work in an NHS testing centre, and now because the testing centre is closing she wants to come back into hospitality.’

Mr Wawrzyniak, who is from Poland, said his Polish employees have returned to the UK after a brief spell at home during the pandemic.

He said: ‘If the place is bankrupt in England where they used to work, maybe they went back, but we didn’t and are operating. Mainly the people who left to Poland used to work in businesses that went bankrupt.’

Mr Wawrzyniak said his business was expanding –  he had gone from eight staff before the Covid-19 crisis to 27 now – but added: ‘I’m struggling to fill up my posts currently. Bar staff is a problem and waiting staff is a problem. My kitchen is fully staffed at the moment.’

Asked about waiters from Eastern Europe who have moved back to their home countries during the pandemic, he added: ‘Yes that’s the problem as well – we have all nationalities, English, you name it, Polish.

‘But obviously lots of people switched their profession during the pandemic. Some got training and went to work in retail, basically they took their future in their own hands,’ he said.

He admitted he was ‘worried’ about the recruitment situation, but added: ‘Obviously I’m positive as well. We need to get it done. I’m not going to (stop) expanding because I cannot find staff. Maybe expansion will take a bit longer.’

He told Wales Online: ‘People who are in the current EU countries should in the future be entitled to come and work in the UK. I think that will be to our benefit. But I think the UK Parliament must decide whether any future people are entitled to come here, and I think anyone beyond those who are currently entitled to come should be subject to a points system.’ 

It comes just months after the chain announced it was investing £145million in new pubs and upgrades with the aim of creating 2,000 more jobs. 

Meanwhile, Mr Paterson told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme there is a ‘huge shortfall in frontline staff’ which meant some Best Western hotels have not been able to open to full capacity.

He said: ‘The real challenge is on frontline staff. In an example, over the weekend a hotel didn’t have the cleaning staff to be able to sell all of their rooms. They couldn’t turn them around.

‘It’s becoming now restrictive on trade. At a time when we’re investing so much on meeting safety precautions and needing more staff to do that we’re actually meeting a shortage. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.’

Mr Paterson said instability in hospitality over the last year of lockdowns had forced some to seek employment elsewhere.

‘The issue is not so much the pay, it’s the stability of the industry. Workers may have a family and they just don’t want to be in an industry that is shutting down and reopening with their jobs constantly at risk.’ 

Wages are on the rise with businesses telling of their struggle to find bar staff despite offering higher rates – and waiters commanding £15 an hour in South East England, equating to nearly £30,000 a year if full-time.

Many workers from Eastern Europe are said to have gone back to their home country before the third Covid-19 lockdown with no reason to return to Britain because much of the hospitality industry has remained closed since.

And one in five companies with furloughed staff now say they are unlikely to keep all of them on, according to a YouGov study released last week. The UK Government estimates 4.9million workers were furloughed in February.   

Matthew Holland, who co-owns Willmore’s 1938 in Penarth, South Wales, with his partner Charlotte Court, told MailOnline: ‘Right through furlough we kept a member of staff in full time employment, he was almost doing his hours but was on flexi furlough.

‘He’s been offered a job now with an agency where the pay is considerably more. He can get an extra £5 or £6 an hour at the agency. We made his salary up to the maximum during lockdown so we’re a bit frustrated.’ 

Hospitality businesses, which includes hotels, bars and anywhere which serves food and drink, are looking at a massive vacancy list from waiters to chefs with 85 per cent of venues currently reporting staff shortages.

The list of unfilled positions also includes housekeepers and bar staff, said trade body UKHospitality, but they are calling on the Government not to abandon or downgrade the plans to reopen all businesses later this month because of the boost it gives to struggling firms.

It has joined Mr Martin in calling for an ‘Australian-style’ visa systems to raise the threshold and allow more overseas workers to come here and fill the vacancies, reported the online journal Big Hospitality.

Bosses are worried workers won’t take up jobs because they do not see it as stable employment until there is more certainty lockdown will fully end on the 21st.

UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: ‘The government must restore confidence in the sector so that it is again seen as a stable employer and provider of fulfilling careers.

‘To facilitate this, it must stick to the re-opening roadmap, lifting all restrictions from June 21st. This will restore consumer confidence and give a strong signal to workers that hospitality will bounce back strongly.’

She added: ‘Beyond this, the single biggest act of support that Government could give would be to encourage mor UK-based workers to join the hospitality sector.

‘It is also time for the Government to review its list of shortage occupations and consider the introduction of an Australian-style visa scheme to enable the workers we need, who don’t meet the point-based system, to come and work here.’   

Where have all the waiters gone? Home! Exodus of EU waiters and baristas left hospitality bosses battling to fill 355,000 roles

Britain’s jobs crisis has been sparked by staff moving into retail, making the most of furlough or heading back to their home countries in Europe. 

Some restaurant bosses told MailOnline furloughed staff left to get a better-paid job at an agency, while another said he had not had a single response to an advert for a bar worker on a salary of £22,000 a year.

Those trying for a job in hospitality said they were grateful for the ‘abundance’ of jobs available at the moment, but bosses have ‘concern’ about the exodus of Eastern European workers following the pandemic and post-Brexit.

Among the chains facing a big recruitment effort is Pizza Express which needed to hire 1,000 staff to join its 360 sites across the UK before indoor hospitality returned on May 17. 

Many workers from Eastern Europe are said to have gone back to their home country before the third Covid-19 lockdown with no reason to return to Britain because much of the hospitality industry has remained closed since. 

A hospitality worker speaks to a diner as a group sit at a table outside a bar in the City of London

Data from hospitality software provider Fourth also revealed 35 per cent of new starters in the first three months of 2021 were from the EU, which was a significant drop from 49 per cent in the first quarter two years ago. 

The overall workforce headcount is also still down 28 per cent compared to shortly after the pandemic began in April 2020, and the number of hours worked across the sector this month was at 72 per cent of the level last July.

The research, based on analysis of more than 700 firms, also found staff aged 18 to 21 made up just 4 per cent of all hours worked last month, compared to 10 per cent in March 2019 – suggesting younger people are working less.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UKHospitality, said there were ‘two elements’ to the recruitment crisis and pointed out that it was being felt differently across the country as the lockdown is eased.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘One is that sadly we were unable to furlough a lot of staff during the course of last year, so companies are trying to recruit in what is a difficult market.

‘Clearly hospitality is at the back of the queue for reopening and still with a large amount of uncertainty hanging over it because of the restrictions, and uncertainty around when those restrictions will be lifted.

People eat and drink while sitting at tables outside a restaurant at lunchtime in the City of London

‘That’s hampering our ability to attract staff because the industry is still seen slightly as being at risk and potentially closing again or having severe restrictions which mean we can’t offer people full-time roles.

‘Secondly there is the challenge when we come to bring people back off furlough; 15 per cent of our staff who are coming off furlough are saying that they’re not wanting to take a role back into the companies themselves.’

Ms Nicholls said one of the primary reasons for this was foreign workers who had returned home either before the Covid-19 crisis began or around Christmas and had since been unable to return to the UK because of travel restrictions.

She continued: ‘You’ve also got students who make up a large proportion of our seasonal workforce, and we are due to be going into our peak season, who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘And then sadly we’ve had people who have been on furlough and have taken a job in another sector, and are now saying they don’t want to return to hospitality.

‘So all of that is creating a crunch point at the point at which we’re looking to return – previously employed staff not returning from furlough, and then the challenge of recruitment in an uncertain market.’   

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