UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the sector needs access to labour outside the EU in order to keep pace with projected growth and urged the Government to reflect this in new immigration policy.
Her plea comes as MPs debate the future of the country after Brexit and after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its latest figures on the UK labour market.
ONS reported an increase in vacancies across industries since 2012, with an estimated 853,000 job vacancies for October to December 2018. Accommodation and food service activities was the sector with the largest estimated vacancy rate, at 4.2 vacancies per 100 filled employee jobs.
Immigration policy concerns
Nicholls said: “Historically low unemployment and high employment is driving labour shortages in sectors like hospitality. Our members are reporting that they are finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies.”
She reiterated concerns about the Government’s intentions to introduce an immigration policy which prioritises ‘high-skilled’ individuals.
“We need a future immigration system that meets the needs of the UK economy, not one based on inflexible ideology.
“We need workers from the EU to bolster our home-grown workforces and keep pace with growth, particularly with unemployment historically low,” she said.
'Lost without foreign employees'
Peter Borg-Neal, chief executive of Oakman Inns, said his business would be lost without foreign employees earlier this week.
Neal told The Morning Advertiser: “Around 27% of our people are non-UK EU nationals and they are proportionately over-represented among our management team and our skilled chefs. Not only would we be a much weaker business without them, we would be unable to contemplate further growth.
He added: “We estimate that we will need around 1,000 new team members over the next twelve months to take part in our expansion and to replace leavers. There is no way we could meet that requirement from British citizens alone.”
Nicholls added that while the new data showed an average growth of wage rates by 3.3%, wages in the hospitality sector were growing even faster.
“The sector is working hard to fill vacancies and invest in their domestic workforces, but their efforts will be undermined if there simply aren’t enough bodies to fill empty roles,” she said.
The number of people in work in the UK has now reached a record high of 32.54 million, according to ONS figures.