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Tue 22 June 2021

McDonalds joins restaurants, farmers and the meat processing industry with concerns that ‘reduced access to overseas labour would present a challenge to our business,’ reports Sian Norris

Fast food outlets and the wider hospitality industry faces “significant challenges in terms of labour recruitment” according to McDonalds’ submission to the Migration Advisory Committee in documents seen by Byline Times

McDonalds’ submission outlined how a shrinking pool of UK labour and full employment in some areas of the UK meant the sector was increasingly reliant on staff from the EEA. 

The “combination of these two challenges,” McDonalds said, “means we are reliant on non-UK labour to meet our business needs.” Workers from the EEA make up 12% of McDonalds staff, while around 80% are UK nationals. 

The submission also expressed concern that “any new migration system” put in place as a result of Brexit risks making it harder to hire staff from abroad. 

“We do have some people working for us who come from outside the EEA and we are concerned that any new migration system might reproduce the difficulties we already experience,” McDonalds stated. 

“Our franchisees already experience significant delays in the processing of visa applications. We have had workers unable to start employment due to delays in the visa process or who end up claiming for loss of earnings due to Home Office errors. We are concerned about this worsening after Brexit,” it continued. 

Before 31 January 2021, workers from the European Union could live and work in the UK under freedom of movement rules. This meant, for example, they did not require a visa to work in McDonalds or any other industry.

Since Brexit, EEA workers must now get a visa in advance to prove their right to work. The newly-designed “points system” also allows individuals to apply for a “skilled worker visa”. To qualify for this, EU citizens “need to show they have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor to be able to apply.”

Employers will also “usually need a sponsor licence to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK.”

One McDonalds franchise employee was considering hiring a worker simply to manage visa applications, adding costs to their business. 


A Pattern of Shortages 

A 2017 report on Labour Migration In The Hospitality Sector, by KPMG and BHA found that even if there was no new migration in the hospitality sector from 2019, existing EU nationals were not required to leave, and the recruitment of UK and ROW workers remains constant, the hospitality sector would still face a recruitment shortfall of upwards of 60,000 workers per annum from 2019.

The impact of the Coronavirus lockdowns and Brexit has risked exacerbating an already unsteady picture. Hospitality now says it now has staff shortages of 180,000 workers – three times the 2017 projection.

Even pro-Brexit Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin is now calling on the Government to introduce a visa scheme that will allow more EU workers to come to the UK and fill the staffing gaps in the hospitality sector. 

Such a scheme would be similar to that launched by the Government to support seasonal farm workers, known as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. The visa quota system allows 30,000 workers to come into the UK. 

However, farmers warn they need double that amount of labourers to meet the staffing shortages that are impacting their industry. 

Channel 4 News reported how a farming WhatsApp group was sharing stories of “serious shortages of skilled staff”. One message read: “problems – short of staff on a daily basis and we can’t cope.” The conversation was between some of the largest sweetcorn, tomatoes and carrot producers in the UK.

Nick Ottewell’s workforce was down 10%, making his farm “closer to not coping than we have ever been.” Talking to Channel 4 News, Ottewell said the labour shortage was “down to Brexit.”

Staff shortages in the farming sector come on top of other concerns that Brexit trade deals and slashed red tape could “see farming shrink considerably,” according to Liz Webster, who runs a farm in Wiltshire with her husband. The decline of the sector post-Brexit will be compared to the “decimation of the coal mines”, she told Byline Times.


Shortage Occupations

As part of its post-Brexit immigration plans, the Home Office has introduced a shortage occupation list.

In an October letter from Home Secretary Priti Patel to the Migration Advisory Committee, Patel explained how “whether an occupation is in shortage will be one of the key factors for which a migrant will be able to score tradeable points under the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System.”

The Home Office website tells foreign workers that “if your job is on the list, you can be paid 80% of the job’s usual going rate to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa.”

Jobs on the list include chemical scientists working on nuclear energy, classical ballet dancers and engineers – as well as social care and healthcare workers such as nurses and paramedics.

It does not include hospitality workers.

The pandemic has led to a rise in unemployment, particularly in the under-35s. The Bank of England expects the jobless rate to peak to around 5.5% after furlough ends in September. This is compared with 4% – or about 1.3 million people – before the pandemic.

However, that does not immediately translate into people being able to take hospitality sector jobs.

“It is very challenging for us to fill the roles held by EU nationals with UK nationals,” the McDonalds submission stated. “We will continue to do all we can to hire, grow and train UK nationals, but based on current forecasts this alone will not be sufficient to allow us to grow our business at the current rate,” it added. 

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