Jamie Oliver sparks fresh row – over migrant workers

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Migrant workers

Jamie Oliver has spiced up the debate about migrant workers' contribution to the UK food and drink industry
Jamie Oliver has spiced up the debate about migrant workers' contribution to the UK food and drink industry
TV chef Jamie Oliver has sparked fresh controversy this week by claiming British youth was “wet behind the ears” and didn’t work as hard as migrant workers.

After controversial remarks about low-income families choosing “massive TVs” ​ahead of healthy diets, Oliver next trained his sights on young British workers.

In an interview with Good Housekeeping​ magazine, the 38-year-old, millionaire celebrity chef claimed: “British kids particularly, I have never seen anything so wet behind the ears!

“I have mummies phoning up for 23-year-olds saying to me, ‘My son is too tired’. On a 48-hour-week! Are you having a laugh?”

Oliver went on to say that without migrant workers, all his restaurants would close tomorrow because there would be no British workers to replace them.

‘Much stronger, much tougher’

“I think our European immigrant friends are much stronger, much tougher,” he said.

EU employment laws specifying a 48 hour working week represented only “half a week’s work”,​ added Oliver. But some British employees “still whinge about it”.

The TV chef’s praise for migrant workers was echoed by R&R Ice Cream, Europe’s largest own-label ice cream manufacturer.

Peter Pickthall, group HR director at R&R Ice Cream, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the firm employed about 30 different nationalities at its Leeming Bar site alone.

“Our jobs are open to all, but it is primarily foreign nationals that apply which is down to their work attitude and ethic,” ​said Pickthall. “They want to work, which means that sickness and absence rates have reduced dramatically. At R&R, they are currently under 3% which is a very low figure for the food industry.” 

Migrant workers were happy to work overtime and willing to learn, added Pickthall.

Happy to work overtime

“Many foreign nationals are very well educated, so we benefit from their skills, which improves productivity while they also understand the technicalities of the job. That enhances innovation, efficiency and effectiveness.” 

R&R Ice Cream accepted that some staff will stay only for two to three years, but during that time their input to the business was “invaluable.”

But a number of young people contacted BBC’s Newsbeat programme in defence of young British workers. Michelle Flavell said: “How can a young British person work if all the jobs are given to immigrants?”

Meanwhile, earlier this year Fiona Kendrick, the boss of Nestlé UK, claimed few would-be engineers were “willing to really roll up their sleeves”​ and engage with unskilled and semi-skilled operators. Speaking at the launch of the degree course in Sheffield, she slammed some youngsters’ lack of interpersonal skills and food industry knowledge.

'Lack of technical ability'

“When we went to talk to employees, they said they found​ [in potential recruits] a lack of technical ability combined with commercial acumen,”​ she said.

Last year Jack Matthews, former chief executive of Improve, the sector skills council and the National Academy for food and drink, told Food Manufacture’s​ HR Forum that the industry was too reliant on migrant labour​.

“About 30% of our jobs​ [in the food and drink sector] are filled by migrant workers. In some cases that rises to the upper 80 percents in the fish processing plants along the Humber esturary. We need to address our dependency on migrant workers in food production.”

What's your view? How to do you think migrant workers compare with their British counterparts? Share your views in our quiz.


Is Jamie Oliver's criticism of young British workers justified?

  • No: they just want a fair day's work for a fair day's pay

  • Yes: many lack the work ethic and professionalism displayed by migrant workers

  • Don't know


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Migrant Workers

Posted by Susanna,

I absolutely agree with Jamie. Young UK applicants today seem to have a vast sense of entitlement and a belief that they will just be given highly-paid jobs when they have zero experience.

Migrant workers are prepared to learn and don't bring that arrogant attitude to work with them.

For those young UK workers complaining that "all the jobs have been given to migrants", have any of them ever asked themselves why that might be?

No, it's not to do with money. My company pays above minimum wage.

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Migrant workers in the food and drink industries

Posted by bob,

I agree with Jamie. Migrant workers do have a much better work ethic and are not afraid of working hard or working long hours because they are not used to anything else.

The majority come over without their families, so have no home life to speak of and send all their earnings home to keep their families. They tend to stay only for a couple of years and move on taking all the experience they have gained with them.

Our young British workers do have home lives and they have been brought up with a balanced home and work-life ethos.

They do not want to work all the unsocial hours that the food industries requires from its employees. It is not that our youth is lazy. The food industry needs to make itself more appealing to the youth of today.

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Migrant workers

Posted by Paul Jones,

I work for a recruitment business in Shropshire and would not be able to supply half of my client base without migrant workers.

In my experience, they work harder and are more committed than their British counterparts.

Jamie Oliver is spot on in his comments. Attitudes of young British workers must change if they are to start competing again for the jobs they didn't want five to 10 years ago.

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