The restaurant industry has given a mixed response to Jamie Oliver's latest outburst branding British kids as "wet", compared with the young Eastern Europeans he employs in his restaurants.
In an interview with The Observer ahead of his latest TV show, Jamie's Dream School, the celebrity chef lashed out at British youngsters and their work ethic. "I'm embarrassed to look at British kids," he said. "You get their mummies phoning up and saying: ‘He's too tired, you're working him too hard' - even the butch ones."
Oliver added: "I've got bulletproof, rock-solid Polish and Lithuanians who are tough and work hard. Physical graft and grunt is something this generation is struggling with. You need to be able to knock out seven 18-hour days in a row."
Steve Bennett, head chef at the Llansantffraed Court Hotel in Wales, said he agreed with Oliver "to a certain extent".
"Eighteen hours shouldn't be the norm at all, but I do agree that the youngsters coming through nowadays are so sheltered at colleges," he said. "When it comes to the days when you have to put in a mega shift or go several days without a day off, they struggle - or, worse still, refuse to do it or walk out. In my own experience British kids aren't as prepared to put their backs into it as the Eastern Europeans."
However, Cyrus Todiwala, chef-patron of Café Spice Namasté, in London, disagreed. "Our kids are not wet. They are just not taught right all the time and are offered too many excuses to fail in what they want to do. They are always offered an option to get out," he said. "I often work with kids from several of our colleges and have never encountered any issues."
Chris Galvin, chef-proprietor of London restaurants Galvin at Windows, Galvin La Chapelle and Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, where he employs mostly British chefs, said it was about looking after staff and preparing them to run their own businesses. "If you want to run your own business you have to be prepared to put in extra hours. But I don't think chefs should work more than 50 hours a week - if they do then they're there in body but not in mind," he said. "You have to look after your staff and you can't attract people to the industry if you force them to work too hard."
Jane Sunley, managing director of Learnpurple - the organisation which helps employers in the hospitality industry to engage, develop and retain its staff - said that times had moved on and so must the industry. "This isn't about British kids being wusses - it's a new generation and employers have to wake up to the point that we are in 2011 and not in the 1970s," she said. "No one has to work 16 hours days any more and employers have a responsibility to make the job different so that these long hours aren't required."
The working time directive states that workers should not work more than 48 hours per week unless they agree to opt out. However, it is quite standard for employees to agree an extension to these hours.
By Kerstin Kühn
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