Speaking at the BHA summit in London yesterday, Nick Varney said the hospitality industry was ‘unappreciated’ by government despite its ‘vital role’ in providing entry-level jobs.
He warned that political parties were using rising wages as part of a ‘dangerous bidding war’ for votes while overlooking businesses' ability to absorb the costs.
Such policies ‘threaten the existence of some and put all under pressure’, he warned.
The National Living Wage is currently set at £7.50 per hour and both Labour and the SNP plan to raise it to £10 an hour by 2020, while it will reach £9.20 under the Conservatives.
“We would all like to pay our people more, invest in more training and ensure they have pensions,” said Varney.
“The problem is that these policies are being dropped on us by politicians with very little experience of business and even less understanding of the disproportionate hit to employers of large numbers of people such as those in hospitality and tourism.”
He added that the ‘looming uncertainties’ of Brexit and possible visa restrictions on EU workers could place the industry at a ‘competitive disadvantage’.
It comes after a recent KPMG study estimated that 75% of UK waiters and waitresses, 25% of chefs and 37% of housekeeping staff are from the EU.
Varney called on the future government to develop ‘evidence-based’ immigration targets rather than restricting freedom of movement altogether.
He added that hospitality and tourism was a ‘second-tier’ priority at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and called for it to be moved to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy,
“It will not be regarded as a serious industry within Government until that happens,” he said.
BigHospitality readers ranked the rights of EU staff and changes to the minimum wage as two of the most crucial election issues in our recent survey.