The trade union surveyed 87 of its members working in restaurants, pubs and hotels in the capital and found that almost half (44%) work over 48 hours a week, with 14% spending in excess of 60 hours a week in the kitchen.
The majority (69%) of chefs said working long hours affected their health, while 51% have suffered depression due to being overworked.
Nearly 80% have had an accident or near miss at work due to tiredness, while 27% admitted they had drunk alcohol to get them through their shift.
Unite said it was now standard practice for employers to include an ‘opt-out’ of the 48-hour week rule under the Working Time Regulations in worker’s contracts. It said the clause was often hidden, leaving worked unaware what they had agreed to.
'Industry needs to change'
The survey comes as Unite prepares to mark Workers’ Memorial Day (28 April) with a vigil in memory of chefs around the world who have died or been injured at work.
“Our survey paints a devastating picture of life for chefs in professional kitchens with one chef saying that his 14 hour days with no breaks led him to being diagnosed with depression and anxiety,” said Dave Turnbull, Unite regional officer.
“The industry needs to change, the excessive working hours and brutal kitchen culture are harming real people and driving talented chefs out of the profession.”
A number of Michelin-starred restaurants, including The Raby Hunt and Sat Bains with Rooms, have cut their opening hours in the last two years in a bid to reduce pressure on staff.
In March Le Gavroche reduced its maximum working hours to 50 hours a week, with no changes to staff pay, after a review found some employees were working ‘longer hours than expected’.
Chefs struggling with physical and mental health issues can contact industry charity Hospitality Action for confidential advice and support.