Sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger has suggested it will struggle to staff its outlets after Brexit because just one in 50 job applicants is British.
Its director of human resources, Andrea Wareham, said UK job seekers did not see it as a desirable place to work.
She said about 65% of its staff came from the European Union.
It would be possible to shift the balance of nationality to British workers, she added, but that would take place “over a long period of time”.
Ms Wareham said she was “absolutely concerned” about the government’s focus on skilled workers when looking at consequences of Brexit. She said it needed to focus on low-skilled as well.
Free food and drinks
Speaking to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Ms Wareham said: “I would say that one in 50 people that apply to our company to work is British.
“If I had to fill all our vacancies in British-only applicants I would not be able to fill them… because of a lack of applications.”
Pret a Manger pays its staff in London (and places with a similar cost of living) £8.05 an hour, including a bonus.
In other regional towns and cities its pay is £7.85 per hour. They get minimum contract hours, are paid for their breaks, and receive free food and drinks when working.
The government’s National Living Wage will be £7.50 an hour from the end of this month, although campaigners say this should be far higher, with a realistic living wage in London of £9.75 per hour and £8.45 per hour in the rest of the UK.
Pret’s starting package in London is about £16,000 a year, but Ms Wareham said staff can earn “really good money” with pay, including bonuses, rising to £40,000 to £45,000 “within a few years” of joining.
And she said she doubted whether improving the terms of employment would bring in more UK applicants: “I actually don’t think increasing pay would do the trick, I can only talk for Pret on this, but we do pay well above the National Living Wage, we do have great benefits and we offer fantastic careers.
“It really is a case of do people want to work in our industry? We are not seen always as a desirable place to work and I think that’s the trick.”