The curry industry’s restrictions on chefs

Posted on In Focus Mar 2012 - by Tandoori Magazine
The curry industry’s restrictions on chefs

It is a known fact that there is a shortage of chefs. There was a chronic shortage for several years and the industry was unable to develop in any significant fashion as a result. Finally, some years ago, in recognition of this fact, the Migration Advisory Committee (which advises government) placed chefs on the shortage list.  

More recently, when the government decided that only graduates should qualify for entry, the issue of the shortage within this industry was re-visited yet again. It is unclear why this was necessary, as shortages do not change within a short period of 6 months. Shortages have been endemic in the restaurant industry and will require substantial investment over years by both government and the industry itself to bring about any change.  
In the most recent review MAC have retained chefs within the shortage list but have warned that employers must do more to create opportunities for local staff. 
The changes mean that existing chefs can only be hired if a recruitment exercise is carried out first. Why this is necessary remains a mystery. If it is accepted there is a shortage there should be no need to advertise. All the advert does is to provide advertisers with revenue.
For new chefs coming from abroad, the employer has to first advertise the position. Once this is done the application goes before a panel of managers. All takeaways, even those who provide a miniscule proportion, are excluded. Those who have buffets are within this exclusion category. Restaurateurs who are planning to open up live kitchens which provide a selection of customised and standard food are likely to be caught by the restrictions.
There are also other hidden changes. For example, the restaurant manager who is the other significant member of staff that is required to manage the operation and the position is at graduate level has, very quietly, been removed from the list of occupations for new staff coming from abroad. 
Local staff have no managerial experience of running restaurants and no interest in managing such operations. This position should have been put onto the shortage list as there is a genuinely a shortage.
So who are the ones affected by all of these changes? The high-class restaurants (defined by the price at which they sell their food), as always in the City and central London, will be free to bring staff. The restaurants that serve the bankers can lie in bed safe that they will be fine.  
For restaurants on the high street it is simply another matter. Most of these restaurants, to stay open, will need to offer competitive prices to customers who are cash-strapped.  Most of these businesses have takeaway sections for those who want to eat good food in their own home during the week. These businesses and in turn customers are likely to be the biggest losers. The high street cannot continue to offer quality food without the ability to innovate.  
Currently, businesses are poaching each others staff. There will however come a time when restaurants need staff to create new dishes and new ideas and there will simply not be enough skilled staff and no will to do this. The other development is that some restaurants are taking risks and employing staff who do not have the status, but have the skills to do the job. Many feel that they have no option if they are to survive in this harsh climate. 
There is no voice which speaks for the businesses on the high street and their need for skilled staff. The Bangladesh Catering Association do excellent work on this but their argument is too wide. They would like to see unskilled irregular staff granted an amnesty. In this economic climate this argument is misconceived.  There is a need for skilled staff.
There is also no common outcry for the ridiculous restrictions for those who have takeaways and those who serve buffets. Restaurants individually feel the pain but are not expressing themselves as one voice and accordingly their views are being marginalized by the argument that there is a need to control numbers. 
Large companies are exempted from controls of numbers and therefore to meet their targets the government have picked on those who are least likely to object. Very soon things are likely to get worse. MAC will meet again next year and may take away whatever remains of the ability to bring staff. 
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