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Death of Tate Modern sous chef to tonsillitis highlights long hours culture

31 March 2010 by
Death of Tate Modern sous chef to tonsillitis highlights long hours culture

The death of an exhausted young sous chef from tonsillitis has highlighted the issue of the long hours worked by staff in the hospitality industry.

Nathan Laity, 23, from Penryn, Cornwall, worked at the Tate Modern, London. He had told his mother, Tracey, that he had worked 27 days in a row and she believed he was regularly working more than 12 hours a day.

Laity died in his sleep of sepsis, a form of blood poisoning, on Mother's Day, the day after his last shift.

"Nathan was a kind and loving person, as well as being a very talented chef, but he was exhausted," said Tracey Laity. "His motto was ‘always a pleasure, never a chore' and that summed him up. Cooking was his life and he was absolutely dedicated to his job. He would never ask anyone to do anything that he wasn't prepared to do himself."

A spokeswoman for the Tate said that the art gallery was very saddened to hear of Laity's tragic death. "Our sincere condolences go to his family," she said. "Nathan Laity was a very valued member of Tate staff and his loss will be keenly felt by his colleagues."

Former employer Brian Harbisher, owners of Castaways wine bar in Mylor Harbour, Cornwall, said Laity was a very talented young chef who was heading towards the top of his profession. "He worked with us for two years before moving to London about 18 months ago," he said. "He was a very good cook and a very hard worker and at the age of 20 we appointed him head chef, in charge of a brigade of 11."

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.

A spokesman for the British Hospitality Association said: "The directive states that they are entitled to 11 hours consecutive rest in between each working day and at least 24 hours uninterrupted rest for every seven-day period. Employers must keep records to show that they are complying with the regulations."

Jane Sunley, managing director of Learnpurple - the organisation which helps employers in the hospitality industry to engage, develop and retain its staff - said that working hours had to be about what is reasonable and sensible.

She added: "A young person who is very ambitious may want to work very long hours. There are obviously occasions when overtime might be necessary, but there is no way that working 100 hours a week is right. Employers need to look at different way of doing things as there is always a way of devising sensible working hours."

Tonsillitis kills sous chef working long hours at the Tate Modern>>

By Janet Harmer

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