Chefs’ health put at risk by ‘punishing’ long hours

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Worrying: long hours are damaging the health of chefs
Worrying: long hours are damaging the health of chefs

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Chefs have called out industry working hours as potentially damaging to their mental and physical health in a snapshot survey by union Unite.

Almost half (44%) of chefs surveyed said they worked between 48 and 60 hours a week, made possible by a ‘hidden’ clause in contracts by which chefs have to ‘opt out’ of working 48 hours.

Such a clause has become standard practice in many kitchens across the UK, according to Unite.
READ MORE: 'I can't be seen to be weak' – facing mential health issues in professional kitchens

Almost 80% of those asked said they have had an accident or a near miss because of fatigue and more than half said they suffered from depression due to being overworked.

Drinking alcohol

Hours impacted the health of 69% of those surveyed, while almost a third (27%) said they drink alcohol as a means to get through their shift.

The research marks Workers’ Memorial Day (28 April), a national occasion to remember chefs across the world who have been injured or died at work, including Michelin-starred Swiss chef Benoit Violier.

Nathan Laity, who worked as a senior sous chef at the Tate Modern, died in 2010 after contracting blood poisoning through an untreated case of tonsillitis after working 27 14-hour days in a row, will also be remembered on the day.

Unite is calling on the industry to end the ‘work until you drop’ culture and is encouraging employers to comply with the Working Time Regulations, which advises 11 hours' rest a day and one day off a week.

48-hour opt-out clause

It is also calling for an end to the 48-hour week opt-out clause in workers’ contracts.
READ MORE: You must be open to beat mental health disorders

Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said: “Our survey paints a devastating picture of life for chefs in professional kitchens with one chef saying that his 14-hour days with no breaks led him to being diagnosed with depression and anxiety.”

He added: “The industry needs to change, the excessive working hours and brutal kitchen culture are harming real people and driving talented chefs out of the profession.

“It can start by encouraging employers to apply the Working Time Regulations in full, including dropping the automatic opt-out of the 48 hour a week limit in workers’ contracts.”

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