Chef union says threat of award removal would have ‘seismic impact' on working conditions in hospitality

08 July 2021 by
Chef union says threat of award removal would have ‘seismic impact' on working conditions in hospitality

Removing awards from hospitality businesses where abuse is proven would have a "seismic impact" on working conditions in the industry, according to the leader of a chef union.

Brian McElderry, executive director of Unichef, told The Caterer he was not asking associations such as Michelin and the AA to police the industry and behaviour in kitchens, but to have an ethical element to their accreditation.

He said: "When systemic abuse is proven, then that should be part of their system to be able to say, ‘sorry, but you're going to lose your stars, your rosettes, because we do not want to be associated with your establishment'.

"If this was a sporting situation and this was Nike or Adidas or Coca-Cola – they would have taken away that sponsorship in an instant. The argument that they are only a guide – yes but they are very influential guides."

He added: "We're not necessarily just talking famous people, there are plenty of one- or two-rosette establishments who prize their accreditations. If they knew that the awards that they prize and their accreditations could be withdrawn from them then it would change the industry overnight and make it a much cleaner, more open and transparent industry to be in."

His call follows recent accusations of bullying and harassment within the Kitchin Group, which have seen two members of staff suspended. Allegations of a "culture of fear" have also been levelled at brewer and pub group BrewDog.

"This is not a one-off, this is systemic abuse," said McElderry. "There are many serious problems in our industry that we need to be honest about and we need to face up to".

He suggested the industry's staffing crisis was the result of poor working conditions in the industry and expressed concerns about the future of hospitality.

He explained: "We worry about the future of our industry and young chefs coming into our industry – what are they expecting now when they see things like this? We have to look at our image because it's in tatters.

"For anybody who's saying it's not as bad as is being made out they're talking complete rubbish because [Unichef] deals with the reality. We deal with the airport chef who's working 100 hours a week, the chef who was threatened with the sack for refusing to work a 16-hour day, the people who are refused time off to go and see their babies in intensive care. The female chefs who are not only being sexually harassed but sexually and physically abused in world-famous renowned hotels. This is the kind of thing we deal with day in, day out."

The Caterer approached the AA but the organisation declined to comment on whether it would consider removing awards from businesses in which abuse is proven or including staff welfare in its accreditation in the future.

Michelin had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Photo: Shutterstock / sylv1rob1

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