Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said that hospitality sector, including the pub trade, is “shooting itself in the foot” by continuing to pay staff the national minimum wage (NMW).
Lord told the industry it needs to look at what it offers or it will lose workers to other better paid industries.
However, trade associations have highlighted the positive career opportunities for young people working in the industry and the current market conditions after the Covid-19 pandemic.
UKHospitality (UKH) chief executive Kate Nicholls said that hospitality is one of the most meritocratic career paths and added that while entry may often – though far from always – be at NMW level, it offers an accessible entry level for young people to a sector where progression can be rapid.
“At the moment, though, the market is incredibly tight, both in terms of margins and the employment market, due to the damage wrought by the pandemic and an exodus of non-British workers,” she said.
“While a staff shortage might generate wage inflation in normal times, debts and the enforced low trading under Covid means that while those companies that can pay higher wages may and do, many others simply won’t be in a position to do so. This is one of the many reasons why UKH continues to make the case for sustained Government support for the sector.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said that it was not just the pub sector that was suffering a labour shortage.
"Our sector is recovering from nearly 16 months of forced closure and heavy restrictions which have destroyed trade. It does face a major labour shortage because of this, but so are many other sectors,” she said.
McClarkin added: “We need to look at how we attract people to the hospitality sector as a whole and incentivise them to stay. This requires a fairer level of tax on our sector, particularly compared to others who have benefited from Covid, so we can reinvest in our pubs and talent so they can thrive once more.”
She highlighted that working in hospitality and pubs isn’t just a ‘stop-gap’ job.
“It is important to remember that in our sector you can rise rapidly from working behind the bar or in the kitchen to managing your own pub,” she said.
However, there was more opposition to his views on social media.
Responding on Facebook, Andrew Oliver Mattinson said: “Shooting itself in the foot? Or responding to ridiculously tight margins and operating conditions?!”
While Nicola Maccabe added: “Customers shooting us in the foot by being unwilling to pay prices that allow us to pay above minimum wage and still make a small profit.”