The clock is ticking on the two-year countdown to Britain's official exit from the European Union. And in the wake of the impending hard/soft/who knows? exit, many in the food and drink industry are taking preemptive measures to Brexit-proof themselves. In January, Jamie Oliver closed six restaurants to save money amid the rising cost of imported ingredients, protected food name campaigners are fighting to safeguard the integrity of Melton Mowbray pork pies, and last week, the Co-op promised to start stocking only British-grown meat.
Now, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called on food chains like Pret a Manger to tackle another problem the sector faces following Brexit: job gaps (700,000 of them, to be precise.) Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics show yesterday, Rudd said that the Government will push businesses to hire British staff, rather than relying on European workers.
In response to Pret's claims earlier this year that currently only one in 50 job applicants to the chain are British, Rudd told the show: "We will be trying to push them [Pret] as well to do more in the UK—them and all other businesses—so that we make sure we look after people who are otherwise unemployed."
EU workers hold a significant portion of hospitality industry positions (they fill 15 percent of jobs, according to the British Hospitality Association) and a post-Brexit clampdown on immigration could leave Britain's cafes, restaurants, and bars with huge staff shortages. In March, the HR chief for Pret told a House of Lords economic affairs select committee that the chain would find it near impossible to source staff if it couldn't employ EU nationals after Britain leaves the EU.
On yesterday's radio programme, the Home Secretary acknowledged Pret's staffing fears but said that more needed to be done to recruit from the UK.
Rudd said: "I did hear that Pret a Manger had come out and said 'It's absolutely essential for us to have European workers because if we don't, we are going to have to make more of an effort to recruit in the UK.'"
In the last couple of weeks, Pret have reportedly started to advertise in job centres and on social media in a bid to attract British workers. MUNCHIES reached out to the chain for further comment on how they plan to tackle job gaps but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.
Something that could solve Pret's staffing woes is the "barista visa," a scheme proposed by a migration think tank last month that would allow young people from the EU to work live and work in Britain for two years. However the British Hospitality Association told MUNCHIES that they agreed with Rudd on the need for restaurants and bars to hire British workers. The trade organisation has submitted a ten-year strategy to the Government, which focuses on recruiting from Britain's unemployed population, school leavers, and over-55-year-olds returning to the job market.
Ufi Ibrahim, the BHA's chief executive, said: "We have submitted our strategy because we are aware of our responsibility to encourage more UK nationals to see the career opportunities available in hospitality and tourism. We do need the Government to play their part too, by recognising our employment needs and recognising how important this industry, the fourth largest, is to the country."
And perhaps, to recognise just how quickly that two-year Brexit deadline will come around.