Starting in 2015, Unichef is the UK’s National Union for chefs. Run completely by Chefs, the aim of the union is to support and understand the issues that many chefs are faced with in today's hectic kitchens, and to focus on the many changes that are needed within our industry for the betterment of all chefs regardless of position, category, age, ethnicity, or gender.
“Not just a Union, but a Philosophy for the future”
The news that the government has set up a “task force” that has zero shop floor representation has been met with dismay and anger.
The new Hospitality committee comprises of the Business Minister Paul Scully and Business Executives who all have a vested interest in seeing the industry return to prosperity.
They have been seconded to ensure that the government’s 22 point plan for recovery is supported, implemented and encouraged within the industry.
However the very point that they intend to do this without recourse to any Union or representative body is quite beyond belief and belies the very attitude that is ripping our industry apart. That those who oversee a “them and us” vision of our future should take a long hard look in the mirror as few of them can truly hold their hand up when they are asked if all of their workforce are secure in their employment, happy and feel safe and protected.
Never could we have envisioned that the very cause of much the deep concerns in the industry are now in the very hands of those who have in recent years overseen much of the abuse of its workforce fueled by mass immigration and poor expansion planning.
The National Chefs Union has now written to those MP’s that supported the call for our own Hospitality Minister earlier this year and have demanded an urgent review of the Council, its role and the lack of diverse representation.
This appalling lack of sensitivity and respect shows contempt for the very people that they employ.
This “let them eat cake” attitude has to stop and its has to stop at the very top if we are to achieve a better future for those that we seek to employ. That they do not seek engagement with the workforce through their representatives shows an unwillingness to accept the worker empowerment that is sweeping across our industry and a fear of those that seek change.
Recent events have shown to the media and outside world that a shocking environment exist inside of many UK kitchens. Yet within the industry none of this is of any surprise, such is the now systemic nature of workplace abuse within our sector.
Recently, I had a notification from Linkedin telling me that’s someone wished to be included in my professional network, nothing new it happens every day. As you process that notification a panel appears that allows you to connect with likeminded professional’s and as
On the eve of an historical meeting between representatives of the industry and Government officials, it is good for everyone to know just exactly why we need our own Hospitality Minister and just why we seek to get closer access to the corridors of power. Much has been said but we think it is time to set out just what we aim to achieve when we do get our own Ministerial Official.
Ministers work between Government and the elected bodies and representatives of an industry. They consult and formulate and implement plans and legislation on behalf of that industry, liaise with and consult with that industry for the betterment of all involved, to create a better and more functional industry.
They can and do act independently but they also work together with the industry on new plans and the implementation of agreed plans and legislation. They can also advise and help draw up papers to put before government that might need new legislative approval.
The advantages are that government get an insight into the industry and that the industry concerned can get first-hand information and advice on any new or proposed plans moving forward.
The National Chefs Union already has an extensive list of items to put before our new Minister which include.
*The creation of a timetable to oversee the implementation of the Good Work Plan and the approval of budgets to create the policing structure for that legislation as detailed by the Director for Labour Enforcement.
* Discussions on the possible amendments to The Health and Safety at Work Act to create a Maximum Level of Heat and to set in law the requirement for free-flowing fresh air within all UK commercial kitchens.
* Discussions on the possible amendments to the Human Medicines Act to allow UK Commercial kitchens to store Emergency Asthma Kits (similar to schools)
* Discussing on the revision of Food Premises Licensing to include provisions for the above amendments and employee wellbeing.
Our list is not exhaustive, there is indeed much we wish to discuss with our new Minister and we fully intend to have our “seat at the table” and make sure the Chefs of the UK are not ignored.
Employment abuse is systemic in UK kitchens and we need to hit the ground running and address the many issues that have been building up for so long, including the age-old practice of Chefs and their kitchens coming last on the priorities of new business who think they can make a fortune on the backs of their chefs without consideration and due attention to the law and their representatives.
In the future no Pub, Hotel, Restaurant, or food premises should ever be allowed to open until the requirements and provisions of Laws attaining to the safety and wellbeing of employees are met first.
The future of catering is here and with us right now and for long we have been last in the queue…now we will be first. Make no mistake, we fully intend to have our voices heard.
Scottish and International Masterchef Shona Sutherland talks about sexism in our industry and just how important it can be that male chefs nurture and support talent of both sexes.
Some reading this will be wondering just why we need to push this subject so hard, after all aren’t there supposed to be equality laws in place?
That’s true, there are, however much of that legislation is still governed and policed by men, and mostly men who have been brought up in a sexist environment which often effects their passive view attitude to women in kitchens.
I too, was brought up in this macho, male dominated atmosphere, although I was grateful that my main teachers in cookery were all women and I benefited from their wisdom and care. Those early years working with women taught me so much about the respect and value that I needed to show as I progressed in my career.
You would think that in the 21st century, the very last thing we should have to worry about is the safety and comfort of our female colleagues in UK kitchens, however the truth is that sexism and inequality is still a big issue in today's kitchens, and we need to continue the fight against it.
So many chefs have commented upon the lack of young chefs and the quality of their training, yet as an industry we still fail to realise just how unattractive the job is to many youngsters and especially to young women who still see the industry dominated by loudmouth macho chefs and they wonder” is this really the job for me?”
Unichef have known for many years that teaching “old dog's new tricks” is a long and arduous process, and therefore we know that if we are to eradicate sexism from the profession, we must educate our younger chefs from day one.
We also know that, in the short term, Litigation or even the threat of Litigation can be a powerful tool against the sexists. Fines are increasing and many employees are now aware of the seriousness of sexism and the damage it can do to their business.
The industry seriously needs to get its own house in order if we are to adequately provide a workforce fit for the21st Century. In 2021 we should not even be discussing this subject, but we are so far behind many professions that except women as equals and as colleagues and not sex objects.
We have taken our slogan # Not on the Menu from the USA yet again other countries have taken the initiative against sexism and #Not on the Menu is a hugely successful campaign which has succeeded in catapulting some of the USA’s top female chefs into prominence.
We need to take a strong lesson from their book and begin to look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “we must do better” and end sexism in British kitchens.
So, what’s NOT on the menu?
Imagine if you can, that you are a female chef and you wear your button or your t-shirt with pride, the slogan saying #Notonthemenu.
The answer is simple, so simple that it stops people right in their tracks and will forever change their view of how they treat you.
That answer is me. I’m not on the menu! nor is my body, my gender, or my sexuality!
“Yeah, right. That’s cool” comes the reply. It will only happen once, when they finally get the idea that you ARE an equal, you are a colleague, and yes you are a chef.
The idea started in America, and comes from years of female oppression in kitchens, and a final realisation that there must and will be changes; 2021 will become the focus of a concerted campaign by Unichef, The National Chefs Union to finally rid our own kitchens of this vile and systemic abuse of our female colleagues.
#Notonthemenu looks at the history and the reverence of women in British Cookery, their contribution, and the exciting and often inspirational contributions that they have made and will continue to make in kitchens across our country.
Our aim is to educate all chefs into a new and fresh culture that accepts people as they are, as professionals doing a professional job, and to help everyone understand that our kitchens are NOT bastions of a male preserve but are in fact “our office” our place of work, where we should all feel safe, secure and protected and where our genders should never come into question.“Our office” should be just like any other modern working environment, we should work by modern recognisable standards towards our colleagues.
Banter and fun, being the butt of sexual talk and jokes, hugging and “love in the kitchen” is all eighties tolerability that no longer belongs in the 21st Century.
As chefs we beg for the latest equipment, the best of facilities and stress to our bosses to get with it and use modern techniques, yet so many of our chefs are still in the last century when it comes to recognising the equality of women in kitchens and yet no one would ever treat their wives, girlfriends or mothers in that way.
We can’t only blame chefs either. Our industry is plagued with male dominated companies and a hugely male oriented media obsessed with the latest “Cool Chef” when there has not been any since Gary Rhodes. And yet TV cooking shows are STILL dominated by men! Is it any wonder then that our young chefs still grow up believing that men are the better chefs, if only through numbers?
The time for change is now, the time to look at how we really treat women in our kitchens and ask ourselves “can we do better”? Can we bring respect and equality back into our kitchen, not only for their sake but for ours too, as treating all people with respect makes us all better chefs.
If you’ve ever wondered just how someone manages to start a national movement from scratch, then here you are, our entire story, warts and all? We really kicked off in about 2013, just a few chefs who had been saying for many years that we needed a “Union” for chefs as all of the big Unions were simply not interested in us as a profession and that small kitchens in the middle of nowhere just couldn’t get any sort of representation.
For the last 3 years Unichef has been quietly working away at a subject that affects every chef in the UK.
It's something that most are not even aware of and some even question its existence, yet Heat Stress is now a major topic of discussion and is now being recognised as a serious workplace issue.
For too many years chefs had had to endure the heat and pressures that modern kitchens create believing that this was normal and that there was little answer to the problem, we just “suck it up “
To look at the causes we need to go back to when UK kitchens were not as they are now. A time when there was no Heated Passes, no undercounter fridge freezers in the kitchen and a 2-3% lower ambient climate then now.
The innovation of the Brands and Gastropubs, meant that kitchen design came last on the thoughts of designers whose prime concern was output and not the Thermal comfort of the employees
The pace of modern kitchens and the escalating cost of prime land means that in the last 30 years kitchens are 50% smaller than they were whilst turning out 100% more volume, requiring chefs too move as little as possible, by having everything at hand, often working in cramped conditions with masses of heat producing machinery.
We take it as normal, but the effects on the body and mind can be extreme and often profoundly serious.
Now organisations such as MIND, The Stroke Association and The Health and Safety Executive are supporting Unichef in their campaign to maximise a safe level of Temperature in UK kitchens.
Our campaign is gathering momentum and 2020 will see us push even further to make employers realise the dangers that extreme of heat can have on their workforce. Last year, Unichef Ambassador Gemma Page published her in-depth study of Heat Stress in Commercial Kitchens and you can read it now by clicking the link button below; note, this is a PDF file, and you will need a PDF file reader to access it.
Heat Stress Dissertation
Announcing our new initiative for 2020, the Unichef Food4kids programme. This programme will study how Children in UK schools are currently being fed and how we can bring together experts in all fields to bring about the changes in the overconsumption of Carbohydrates and Sugar.
The programme will involve itself in how school meals are often very poorly designed and constructed, from the menu and recipe design through to costings and searching for cost-effective replacements for many of the favourite "fill up "foods that kids crave for.
Food4kids will work closely with schools and colleges in searching for all the answers to the difficult issues that they face and will seek to educate the Heads of Schools , their Governors and all of the school system into believing that there is a much better way to feed our children in the 21st Century and finally, but most importantly, the kids themselves.
Children need to be fully educated into that what they eat now will affect their health for many years to come. They need to know the addictive qualities that Starch and sugars have on the nutritional system as they grow.
We will use our extensive network of Chefs and suppliers to develop high quality, low carb, low sugar replacements for all the favourites that kids like. We've discovered through the years that replacing pizza with salad, just doesn't work, and we need to find like for like replacements, but with the addictive sugar and starch removed.
Such items DO exist and we need to put pressure on manufacturers , suppliers and Caterers to develop products with severely cut levels of these additives at the same price if not cheaper than products presently used. If kids want pizza then fine, just let us develop pizza and other items that are great tasting, but just as filling and at the price caters can afford...it can be done, and it will be.
Fantastic wages, constant praise, your own menus and an incredible team to support you, what more could any chef want?
Yet the dream of many chefs awaits anyone who works for Europe’s premier Fine Dining website.
La Belle Assiette’s phenomenal rise to the top is founded on the simples principals of making sure everyone involved for each event has an amazing time..and that includes the chef!
LBA ( as it's known to all ) takes enormous pride in the success of their chefs and will do anything that is needed to secure the success of your client’s special night.
Each chef decides their own menu and costings based on LBA’s price ranges. You get to decide how much you want to work by using your own unique calendar portal, you even get to decide what area’s you want to cover and you can decide on the maximum number of guest you wish to cook for. Examples below:
On the evening of the event, you are the star performer, raising your game to secure the highest of accolades from your guests ( and some great tips also ! ) and hopefully that all-important rave review, which is the crowning glory of a job well done.
Being an LBA chef is the ultimate in designer cookery. Total freedom in what you cook and how you work, and an amazing team to support you all the way, the only rule is just making sure your guests have a truly wonderful night to remember.
Why not click into the link and call La Belle Assiette today, you won’t be sorry, I promise… bon appetite
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Why it matters?
And then we realised that we also knew many of these chefs, and we had been working alongside of them for many years without realising the often huge sacrifices they have to make just to earn a living in the job they love.
From that day on we knew that if Unichef was to help chefs then we needed to embrace MHI and work to learn more about those issues and those that have them. We started from scratch, we listened, and we learned, we talked, and we communicated with new friends and associates. We joined the Time to Change project in early years and more recently became very close to MIND in working together to end Mental Health discrimination in our industry.
Today Unichef stands proud in the fact that we have done more to raise awareness of MHI in catering than any other Union, and when we became a CIC we took the inspirational step of enshrining MHI into our constitution, the first Union ever to do so.
We constantly work to make all chefs and employers “aware” that the chefs your working with may have an illness that they often don’t want to talk about, but that they have every day of their lives, they don’t want pity or your money, they just need you to understand.
Taking time to understand that having MHI is a daily strain in what is a hugely difficult job, taking time to check on your colleague, taking time to realise that their life might not be the same as yours, taking time to care, and taking time to support.
So, awareness matters, not just this week but as a constant theme in our everyday lives. Being aware that we have a 1 in 4 chance of working with someone that needs our understanding and a 1 in 4 chance that their bad days are 10 times worse than ours.
Be aware of Mental Health Issues, not just today, but forever.
With so much discussion about the future of chefs and what may happen if and when we return to work, many of us have forgotten the other side to the story.Its easy to think only of ourselves but what about the employers and in particular pub and Restaurant owners who have sunk their money and much of their lives into their dream.What is to become of their livelihood and what kind of a future do they see?
We talk to Catherine Spence, the owner of a hugely popular and successful Restaurant in North Yorkshire to see how she feels about the future of her dream?
Q. Hi Catherine,good to talk to you.What changes do you think would be good in the future after re-opening?
A. What I think would be a good idea for you to advocate Brian, would be making the general public realise they need to pay more for meals and stop looking for offers , discounts and money off,then independents could pay higher wages
Q. I agree totally, we have been opposed to 2-4-1 offers for many years and have said that there is simply too many bad Restaurants and too many Branded Chains?
A. Exactly, the chains have ruined the industry, with ready made , vacuum packed food and offers.I’m up against this all the time , we have 2 chains near us and customers always complain that we are too slow, they just don’t get we are actually cooking the food and not putting it in a microwave
Q. I believe that we are about to see a transition to the way we used to be where staff and clients were more highly thought of and that service was a skill and a pleasure.Can you see a future for quality establishments?
A.Yes I can and my plan is to up our game , as there will be fewer diners , go for quality rather than quantity will be the way forward for us now.
Q. With so many restrictions to running a Restaurant,do you see the future as a challenge?
A.The system is against us , to be honest,VAT,business rates ( we pay £9000 a month ) Regulations,Health and Safety etc etc
Q. Are you actively planning re-opening or are you waiting to see what instructions the government have in store ?
A. I’m definitely reopening, we own the property, so need to open,but waiting to see the government guidelines then decide how to move forward
Q. Do you think it is possible to obey the restrictions and still keep your staff and customers safe and maintain the unique and special atmosphere that your famous for?
A. We could maintain the social distancing , but the atmosphere will not be the same , Italian restaurant are usually buzzing, busy and noisy , that will not be the case. It will probably now be a restaurant where people visit as a couple or family. But not in groups or parties for a long time.
Q. Finally Catherine,do you envisage having difficulty recruiting for chefs when you re-open and in the future?
A. No , I think now chefs will not leave their jobs and stay put.
Thank you Catherine
Defining the difference?
Whilst it is widely recognised that Commercial kitchens require a degree of Management and overall supervision, where that line is crossed and staff become abused has been argued recently.
Kitchens after all can be very dangerous environments, with often dangerous equipment and service areas and someone needs to be a leader and show overall control.
Catering is a strange and unique profession in the fact that many Head Chefs aren’t qualified or trained in running a kitchen and that many of the people skills that they need are often learned “on the hoof” and often after mistakes have been made.
Many Head chefs have little time for training their own staff, let alone receive much training themselves and are often promoted by just being in the right place at the right time or are promoted purely on their culinary skills and not their ability to run and control a business.
Few realise that dealing with people of various distinctions, ages sexes, religions and cultures can be hugely daunting and complex.
So it is that under this type of untrained semi managerial skill base that sometimes “Tribal Kitchens” evolve where Head Chefs are not the leader people want them to be but insist on still being “one of the crew”
Respect dissolves, the line between leader and friend becomes blurred and harmful and “Tribal Kitchens” evolve into environments for abuse and harm. Loud music, shouting, swearing and “playground” humour all mix into this breeding ground for abuse.
The abuser feels no threat or shame as he/she is simply one of the team and the team will support and encourage that abuse. The Team become a pack, often agreeing and applauding that abuse, vindicating that abuser, and so the vicious circle continues.
The abuser is no longer in control, but uses bullying as a form of control. Their own self-esteem and confidence is low and so seek control in boastful gestures and abusive manners.
From time to time in catering, something comes along that revolutionises the way we work. You can think of things like Maltodextrin or even Rational Ovens, but something much more important is about to change the way we work in this industry forever.
“One Sided Flexibility” is soon to become outlawed in catering and heralds a change in the relationship between Employer and Employee of seismic proportions, but what exactly is One Sided Flexibility?
In short, it’s a working relationship that sees the benefit mainly for the Employer, one sided. The obvious example in our profession would be Split Shifts. This Victorian practice of work where your entire day is spent on work, but you are only paid for the hours you do, or even worse still the abhorrent practise of AFD shifts of 12hrs plus, these practices save the employer money but abuse our social and mental welfare.
Soon both of these practises will cease, and Employers will be forced to realise that shifts MUST benefit both sides in order to create a good working relationship. There will also be adjustments to Zero Hours working and Employers will soon have to adjust their contracts to ensure that you have a balanced work schedule with a minimum set day/hour rota pattern for both parties to adhere to.
The vile practice of cutting shifts without notice or even worse in the middle of a shift when things become slow will also be abolished as the government have recognised the importance of workers being able to sustain rent and a mortgage and so must be able to rely on a dependable work structure.
There will also be a national system of whistleblowing and reporting so that employees will, for the first time ever, be able to deal with issues directly and in confidence.
Employers must stop exploiting chefs in the way they have for many decades. The Government’s vision of a fairer way of working in partnership with Employees must now be embraced by all and The National Chefs Union will be playing a big part in shaping that future.
The Pandemic has made everyone realise that the system of work in Catering is broken and that if we are to attract a better, fitter workforce then we need to attack the core issues of exploitation within our profession.
In the very near future we need to offer our young chefs, a brighter, safer, and more rewarding career than at present. A career free from intimidation and exploitation, a career that shows the best of what we can do, with time to spend with our friends and family, a career that is caring of its workforce and a career that is secure and forward thinking.
All of this is possible and within our reach. The Good Work Plan will ensure a fairer, decent way of working for all of us in the very near future.
Many have heard of terms such as subconscious sexism, racism, and ageism. Those inner most thoughts that we rarely see come to the surface but are often in the backs of people’s minds.
Indeed, our actions, even with the best of intentions are now considered as our true feelings. The theory behind this being that if we say or do something that is now socially unacceptable even though we adamantly deny such thoughts then it is our subconscious feelings coming forward, in fact our “true selves”
This theory is then echoed into the handbooks of many employers, governed by overzealous HR consultants who in fear of litigation cover their employers by submitting to this theory.
So then, that must surely give way to the actions of employers also?
Is how they behave and act towards their employees often an indication of subconscious behaviour and is the practice of inhuman and socially unacceptable work pattens just subconscious exploitation?
Isn’t it time that acts such as 12-14-hour shifts, constant weekend working, all day long shifts and unpaid tasks can now be seen as exploitation even though we have accepted such conditions for many years.
Perhaps now is the moment to wake up and realise that when we are asked to give more than we are paid for on the grounds of “duty” or “teamwork” then this is simply the subconscious action of an exploitative employer or manager.
Should we all now be aware that going that extra mile or doing that extra shift, is just guilt tripping us into free labour and that we should now stand firm on the exploitation that is systemic is catering, and in reality hasn't it always been that way since our very first day in catering and isn't Contracted Hours simply the epitome of exploitation?
If the Pandemic has taught us one thing it is surely that all employees are disposable, we are asked to “take one for the team” but has the team ever taken one for us?
As head of Unichef and a working chef, there are few things that annoy me more than the subject of pay errors.
When someone has worked hard all month and is looking forward to their pay, is it not too much to ask that it be correct? We are expected to perform to the best of our ability so why not the payroll clerks?
Whilst we suffer the wrath of Head chefs and mangers for making mistakes in our daily work, is anyone ever actually reprimanded for making mistakes in our payroll?
I think you will find that the answer is no.
HR and payroll are virtually a law unto themselves in many companies and rarely come under fire for their poor performance and mistakes, it is little wonder so many chefs mistrust a system that should be there to protect them but is often seen as being biased in what they do and say.
Most annoyingly of all is the undoubted fact that anyone they deem of being “important” such as the MD ,Senior Managers and even themselves will be getting priority treatment over their payments, somehow I doubt that there is ever a pay mistake made in the Managing Directors wages at Compass Catering do you ?
Yet chefs, and kitchen staff are the ones most often effected by the mediocre performance of HR departments. I know in some kitchens it's such a regular event that even bets are placed as to who’s turn it is for a pay error?
This appalling practice needs to be called out, We deserve better and should be demanding better from those who are paid to support us, paid to be correct and paid to make sure we get what we’ve worked so hard for all month. They seem oblivious to the real harm they do in their costly mistakes, constantly blame the computer and vow to put it right next month!
Next month? how about today? How about right now?
“Embrace who we are, be a part of what we do”
“Unichef is revolutionising the way chefs think about
their work, their colleagues, and their working environment”
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