WTD opt-out axe could force hotels to use unpaid labour to fill gaps

A luxury hotel chain will use work experience students to make up the overtime hours currently worked by permanent employees if the UK loses its opt-out to the Working Time Directive (WTD) next month, Personnel Today has learned.

The acting HR director at five-star hotel group Lancaster Landmark Hotels, Ciara Hassan, said that many of the chain’s 800 staff worked more than 48 hours per week to make up for labour shortages in the hospitality industry.

She said that axeing the opt-out would force the chain to rely on cheap or free labour to enable it to continue providing a 24-hour service to guests – placing yet more pressure on kitchen operations and making the paid job even less attractive to external candidates.

Hassan said: “Every hotel in London is notoriously short of chefs – chefs [therefore] have pressure to work longer hours to cope with 24-hour room service. How do you manage that if the opt-out is scrapped? We struggle to recruit chefs at the best of times and we cannot afford to rely on agencies to bring extra people in.

“We are linking up with colleges to get more work experience people in to cover menial kitchen tasks, to help cope with demand. We’ve not done this aggressively before,” she added.

Currently one in 10 British employees work beyond 48 hours per week, according to government figures. Individuals usually choose to work longer hours to earn extra money and employers rely on them to cover for labour shortages. Last week HR directors warned that scrapping the opt-out from the WTD would force many migrant workers, who currently rely on working more than 48 hours per week to boost their pay, to return home.

Scrapping the opt-out would, therefore, put even more pressure on chefs to employ anybody who will take the job, regardless of suitability or talent management strategies, Hassan said.

“Chefs would take anyone on as long as they’ve got two arms and two legs, which isn’t the best recruitment strategy,” she said.

The new points-based immigration system, which goes live at the end of this month, will also present recruitment challenges, Hassan added. Kitchen staff below sous-chef level are not on the official job shortage list.

“We rely on people from the EU to fill skills gaps,” said Hassan. “Gordon Brown is right [to call for] ‘British jobs for British people’, but it may hinder us in the short term. However, it will make us think more creatively about how to grow talent from within,” she said.

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