Ministers need to tighten up the legislation to stop chefs – one of the groups of employees most hit by Covid-19 – from being pressurised into working more than 48 hours a week.
The call has come from Unite ahead of Workers’ Memorial Day on Wednesday (28 April) which commemorates all those killed, injured or made sick during the course of their work.
Unite hospitality members will be holding a minute’s online silence on Wednesday to remember all the chefs and hospitality staff who have lost their lives since the pandemic struck in March last year.
Unite is continuing to highlight the health and safety concerns relating to stress and the excessive hours worked by chefs and the long term health impacts.
The issue has been further underlined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which registered that 82 chefs succumbed to coronavirus in 2020.
Unite said ministers need to change the law so that chefs are automatically protected by the Working Time Directive – still in place even though the UK has left the EU – which limits the working week to 48 hours.
“The industry is frequently failing in its duty of care towards skilled workers who are vital to its future success,” commented Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull.
“Ministers need to act to stop the continuing abuse of chefs who find themselves pressurised into working way beyond the 48 hour week.
“The urgency for this is reinforced by the high death toll amongst chefs during the pandemic as revealed by the ONS figures.
“It has become standard practice for hospitality bosses to insert the voluntary ‘opt-out’ from the Working Time Directive into employment contracts. This means that by signing these contracts chefs and other workers automatically ‘opt out’ without actually proactively wanting to do so.
“The employers then underpin this deception, with chefs in particular, by placing them on salaried pay rather than hourly rates. This results in excessive hours and, in many cases, underpayment of the minimum wage.
“However, workers who have ‘opted out’ have a legal right to issue written notice that they want to opt back in to limit their average week to 48 hours.
“We are calling all chefs to protect their wellbeing by opting back into the 48 hour maximum working week and that contracts which make a 48 hour ‘opt out’ an employment condition to be outlawed.
“There is a clear case for the legislation to be strengthened to stamp out these abuses across the hospitality sector, which is already suffering from a ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis as restaurants, pubs and bars emerge from the Covid lockdown restrictions.”
He added, “A survey of hospitality members last summer, who had been redundant during the pandemic, painted a grim picture for the sector’s future – for example, 78 per cent of chefs said they would not recommend the career to school leavers.”
The call for greater protection for chefs comes at the same time as Unite is demanding that the government brings forward its much-anticipated ‘tips’ legislation to stop abuses which have meant waiting staff not getting the money they are due.
By Shaun Noble