Proportion Of EU Workers In Hospitality Sector At Lowest Level In Years

As the hospitality sector begins its recovery from the pandemic, the latest figures from Fourth, the leading global software provider for the hospitality and leisure industries, reveal that the proportion of sector workers from the EU is at its lowest level since Fourth began recording workforce data in 2016.

It also reveals that the proportion of British workers in hospitality has risen substantially over the past two and a half years. This highlights an ongoing shift occurring within the sector’s labour market, accelerated by disruption caused by COVID-19, concerns over job security and immigration policy.

The data, aggregated from the analysis of more than 700 companies across the restaurant, pub, bar and QSR sectors, reveals that:

  • EU workers made up 37% of the hospitality workforce in June 2021, compared to 43% in June 2019
  • British workers made up 51% of the workforce in June 2021, compared to 46% in June 2019
  • The total sector headcount this month is still down 13% compared to July 2020, and down 23% compared to July 2019
  • The total headcount for Q2 2021 (April, May, June) was down 25% compared to Q2 2020
  • According to Fourth’s data, 45% of payroll staff remain on full or flexi-furlough, the smallest proportion of workers since the scheme was introduced

The data reveals that the proportion of EU workers has been consistently declining since the UK formally left the European Union in January 2020, which was closely followed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic just two months later.

In that time, the proportion of EU workers in the sector has dropped from 43% in January 2020 to 37% in June 2021. This has been offset by a steady increase in British nationals, rising from 46% in January 2020 to 51% in June 2021 – taking the figure over that threshold for the first time. The proportion of workers from non-EU countries has remained relatively steady, increasing slightly from 11% in January 2020 to 12% in June 2021.

This trend is also recognised across back-of-house and front-of-house roles in June, with British workers accounting for 32% of back-of-house roles and 55% of front-of-house roles, the highest proportion seen since Fourth started recording this data. Conversely, workers from EU nations recorded the lowest proportional figures on record in the month, accounting for 52% of back-of-house roles and 36% of front-of-house roles. This does show that the majority of back-of-house jobs, such as chefs and kitchen porters, are still held by EU workers, but that number is decreasing.

The same can be said for new starters in the sector, with British workers leading the way. Over the course of June, they accounted for almost two-thirds (63%) of all new hires across the sector, again the highest figure on record, while EU nationals made up just a quarter (28%) of new hires – a significant reduction since January 2019 (50% of new starters). Workers from non-EU nations made up 10% of new hires, a figure that has remained relatively steady since 2019.

Sebastien Sepierre, Managing Director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “A potent combination of Britain’s departure from the EU and the devastating impact of the pandemic continues to significantly shake up the sector’s labour market. The much-publicised staffing crisis is proving hugely challenging for operators, as a consequence of a clear shrinking of the labour pool, in back-of-house roles in particular. It remains unclear how long this disruption might last and how it will be resolved in the months ahead during the long road to recovery.

“It will be interesting to see how trading models which evolved during the pandemic, such as reliance on table service, digital ordering and development of new sales channels, will impact labour scheduling and the workforce in the future. Now that restrictions have been lifted in England and consumers can order from the bar once more, operators will need to find solutions that allow them to provide a great guest experience in tandem with maximising efficiency.”

Fourth’s data also reveals that:

  • The pub sector appears to be the most resilient, with its headcount down 7% this month compared to July 2020, followed by hotels (13% down), restaurants (14% down) and QSRs (15% down)
  • The number of hours worked in June 2021 increased by 378% compared to June 2020, yet this was still down by 26% compared to June 2019
  • There were 54% more starters than leavers in June 2021, a figure which has been consistent since April this year.