Investigation reveals toxic working conditions and poor pay that pushes many bosses to resign

Tourism revenues are booming, with visitors seemingly seeking more scenery, history and culture. Food prepared by chefs in cafes and restaurants is an integral part of the tourist experience. But despite the laws of supply and demand, the situation for chefs is unlikely to improve without a radical change in working practices.

Our study is the first quantitative survey to examine working conditions and mental health issues among chefs in Australia and New Zealand. The survey was distributed through professional culinary associations and final responses were collected as Australasia emerged from COVID restrictions.

The investigation also follows previous Australian studies, which indicated exploitation was a norm in the industry, with chefs experiencing burnout and wage theft.

“Jokes, bullshit and hits”

It is well known that the kitchen environment is particularly harsh. As a British study titled “Banters, Bullshit and Beatings” makes clear, an often macho culture can prevail, including strange induction rituals.

An Australian study published in 2022 showed that chefs were significantly more likely than the general population to commit suicide. And even before the pandemic, the industry’s “toxic” corporate culture was blamed for mental health issues and high suicide rates among employees.

Most of our surveyed chefs were men, with an average age of 37. They had been chiefs for an average of 16 years. Of these, 42 per cent were from countries other than Australia and New Zealand, highlighting the high mobility of the profession.

The results reveal worrying information about the working conditions of chefs. It was surprising to find that almost half (44%) of our sample were in precarious employment, given the skills shortage.

Two thirds (67%) of those surveyed worked more than 38 hours a week, but a fifth of chefs worked between 52 and 61 hours. Of these, 6.33 percent worked 62 hours or more – well above the still common 40-hour working week in New Zealand and the legally mandated 38 hours in Australia. Despite a rapidly changing environment, a quarter of them have not benefited from the legal benefits granted to them.

The economic insecurity was very evident. Financial difficulties were reported by almost one in five chefs (15-20%), and a quarter of those surveyed had gone without meals due to financial pressures. That those who feed others struggle to feed themselves seems a dark irony.

Two-thirds also reported working when sick, an average of nine days a year. After the COVID crisis, this should concern healthcare professionals, policy makers and the wider community.

Leave the industry

The 2023 Umbrella Wellbeing Report, which recorded New Zealanders’ perceptions of their workplace and wellbeing, warns that long working hours and poor work cultures are taking a toll on health, the New -Zealand is doing worse than Australia.

Nearly one in ten chefs surveyed suffered from mental distress. The results showed high levels of physical and mental fatigue (“exhausted at work”, “emotionally exhausted”, “disconnected”).

Respondents reported sleep disturbances and unhealthy lifestyles. Nearly 15 percent of the sample drank alcohol five or more days a week, and 11.4 percent reported using hard drugs (LSD, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or ecstasy) during the year. elapsed.

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