Research by The Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association suggests that more than half the workforce currently working in restaurants and pizza delivery businesses across the UK would have to leave if there is no agreement with Europe. Most of these could not be replaced by British nationals.
Without overseas workers, the industry would struggle to provide the level of service consumers have come to expect and many might be forced to close.
In fact, there is already a shortage of skilled pizza chefs in the UK with the uncertainties of Brexit causing some Italian pizzaiolos to return to Italy or take up jobs in mainland Europe.
In some London restaurants, the issue is more critical with some 70% of employees coming from mainland Europe or elsewhere.
“The uncertainty over Brexit is already being felt,” says Jim Winship, Director of the Association. “Some workers from overseas have already started leaving because they feel insecure and this is not helped by the weak pound.
“Unless the Government gives some real assurancessoon, this could turn into a flood and many of our member businesses would struggle.
“Although Theresa May has made a statement that those EU nationals resident in the UK for more than 5 years would be offered residency if the EU reciprocates with UK nationals, this does not entirely give confidence and does not deal with the on-going needs of the hospitality industry.
“Our research says that around 40-50% of the industry’s workforce nationally comes from outside the UK and in some areas, such as London, it is as high as 70%! Many of these are relatively short-term and transient ‘immigrants’ who will stay for a year or two, get experience and then go home.”
The Association is calling for the Government to introduce a visa system that would allow unskilled or semi-skilled workers into the country for a limited period to take up vacancies that cannot otherwise be filled. It also wants specialists, such as pizza chefs, to be included on any acceptable skills lists.
“The vast majority of these workers do not stay in the UK long term,” adds Jim Winship. “However, without them our industry will struggle as there simply aren’t the people here to fill the vacancies.”