Two-thirds of London chefs believe long hours’ culture is harming their health, Unite survey reveals

Punishing long hours’ culture in many professional kitchens is putting the mental and physical health of chefs in London at risk, a snapshot survey by Unite, the country’s biggest union, has revealed.

Almost half (44 per cent) of chefs surveyed said they worked between 48 and 60 hours each week, with it now standard practice for employers to include an automatic ‘opt-out’ of the 48-hour a week rule under the Working Time Regulations in workers’ contracts. The clause is often hidden, with workers unaware that they have opted-out of this protection.

A staggering 79 per cent said that they have had an accident or near miss due to fatigue, with 51 per cent saying that they suffer from depression due to being overworked. Sixty-nine per cent reported that their hours impact on their health, while nearly a third (27 per cent) said they drink alcohol to see them through their shift.

The findings come as chefs working in London, members of Unite, mark Workers’ Memorial Day tomorrow (Friday 28 April) with a candle-lit vigil in memory of chefs the world over who have died or been injured at work, including Michelin-starred Swiss chef, Benoit Violier and closer to home, Nathan Laity – a talented young chef, who tragically died in March 2010 from blood poisoning, caused by an untreated case of tonsillitis. He had worked 14 hours a day for 27 days without a break.

Unite is calling on the industry to end ‘the work until you drop’, long hours’ culture. It can start by encouraging employers to fully comply with the Working Time Regulations, including the right to 11 hours rest a day and one day off a week, as well as dropping the automatic 48-hour week opt-out clauses in workers’ contracts.

Nathan’s mum, Tracey Laity said: "Nathan was a loving and hardworking individual, dedicated to providing the best possible service to customers wherever he worked. He threw himself into the job wholeheartedly in order to succeed and it's important that those who work hard in the service of others are remembered and recognised for the work that they do."

Unite regional officer, Dave Turnbull, said: “The motto of International Workers’ Memorial Day is ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’. On Friday we will remember Nathan, a talented chef who tragically died too young, and others like him who have died or been injured at work. In fighting for the living, we will be calling on the industry to end the long hours’ culture.

“Every worker deserves to return home from work healthy and safe every day.  But for many chefs working in the UK hospitality industry, the profession’s notorious long hours’ culture and relentless pressures are taking a damaging toll on their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

“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.

“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. It can start by encouraging employers to apply the Working Time Regulations in full, including dropping the automatic opt-out of the 48 hour a week limit in workers’ contracts.

“After the general election, the next government must commit to carrying out an immediate review into the 86 per cent cut in health and safety inspections by local authorities since 2013, because without inspections there is no one asking these questions.”