Foreign labour is keeping hospitality trade in business

PUBLISHED: 10:22 23 April 2008 | UPDATED: 21:45 15 June 2010

WELCOME WORKERS: Beata Latanik and Marek Lewandowski with Kathryn Richards in Lyme Regis.

WELCOME WORKERS: Beata Latanik and Marek Lewandowski with Kathryn Richards in Lyme Regis.

A HOTEL owner in Lyme Regis claims the hospitality business is becoming more reliant on migrant labour – as she takes on more foreign workers.

A HOTEL owner in Lyme Regis claims the hospitality business is becoming more reliant on migrant labour - as she takes on more foreign workers.

Kathryn Richards, of the Alexandra Hotel in Pound Street, recently appeared on the BBC One documentary Meet the Immigrants, singing the praises of her foreign staff.

The programme followed the recruitment of Jolanta Bikova from Latvia and focused on the staff members from abroad, namely Eastern European countries.

But Mrs Richards was quick to point out that of 30 staff only seven were foreign - six from Eastern Europe and one from France.

"I'm not putting up an advertisement saying 'Polish people only!'" she said. "But if most of the applications come from them, then that's what you have to choose from."

Emphasising that her foreign employees were paid above the minimum wage and the same as English staff, she put to bed claims that her motives were financially based.

Instead she pointed to other factors influencing her choice and explained that the employment of migrant workers was becoming increasingly common, with some hotels having only 10 per cent English staff.

During the documentary she voiced concerns that on occasions English people rang her not actually wanting the job but carrying out phone calls to satisfy the Job Centre in order to seek benefits.

Whereas she believed foreign workers were more likely to actually want the work and commit to it.

"People in the industry find it extremely hard to find workers among English people who will stay a long period of time," she explained. "Students are great, but you have to prepare for a high turnover. The foreign employees are more permanent and some have been here two or three years.

"For foreign workers it's actually a chosen career and they have training.

"Many earn more than they get at home so appreciate what's on offer.

"As their families are far away, they also seem to be more prepared to work unsocial hours.

"For English people it may just seem like the obvious thing to do in a sea side town."

She said the industry was a demanding one, with staff expected to work hard and long and unsociable hours, and that many English people perhaps had higher expectations, citing one example of an English employee asking about managerial positions after only two days in the job.

"Everyone needs a goal," she said, "but you actually have to learn on the job first - and be prepared to work hard."

However, Mrs Richards did acknowledge that there could be some drawbacks with employing non-English staff, namely communication.

She said: "To speak good English is the most important thing. It's a fast-paced environment and they need to understand the customers well. Ideally I would like them to speak English perfectly."

Mrs Richards said she carried out interviews to check the English of potential foreign employees and had turned some down because it was not of an acceptable level.

But she recognised that even when the employee spoke good English, some customers still had difficulty understanding them because of their accents.

She said: "Sometimes guests struggle to understand.

"Usually those who come down from London for the weekend have no problem as they are used to interacting with foreigners, but it can be a problem for the older guests who are not."

On agreeing to take part in the documentary, Mrs Richards said she hoped to improve people's perceptions of migrant workers and draw more attention to Lyme Regis.

Polish employees Marek Lewandowski, 28, and Beata Latanik, 24, have both worked at the Alexandra Hotel for 3 years.

They said that although the initial transition was difficult, because of the language and cultural barrier, they are enjoying living and working in a sea side town.

Marek said: "We only planned to stay for a year, but we've found the right place.

"We initially had a few problems with people discriminating against us - but you get that everywhere. Polish people can also be prejudiced against people coming from the Ukraine.

"But we find the people friendly and helpful here."

Beata added: "I love Lyme Regis, it's beautiful. Kathyrn is a good boss. If we weren't happy we wouldn't have stayed so long."

Meet the Immigrants is part of a six part series, airing on Monday, at 10.35pm. The observational documentary catches us with the Alexandra Hotel on April 28th when Jolanta hands in her notice.

But Mrs Richards has no regrets: "I had a feeling when she kept talking about her boyfriend that she wasn't going to make it. But she gave me notice and said she would even work until I found someone else. She's since e-mailed and wants to know how she came across on TV!

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