Pret climbs down on 'sandwiches in exchange for work' scheme and promises to pay teenage interns

Helena Horton
Sandwich chain Pret A Manger wants to hire 16 to 18-year-olds over the summer - © 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP.

After online anger, Pret A Manger has scrapped plans to offer sandwiches to teenagers in exchange for their time on an unpaid internship.

The chief executive of the sandwich chain has been forced to promise to pay interns after members of the public threatened to boycott the sandwich chain.

Pret is said to be on the cusp of a staffing crisis, as just one in 50 of job applicants to the sandwich chain is British. If foreign workers avoid the country because of Brexit, or choose to return home, Pret could find itself short of staff.

To avoid this Pret is putting on a work experience scheme in the summer, where teenagers “get exposure to aspects of our business including food production, customer service, social responsibility [care for the homeless] and financial control”.

Teenagers were originally not going to be paid for their efforts, but get food in exchange for their time. 

Clive Schlee, Pret A Manger CEO, said : “Pret’s Work Experience Week is not about making sandwiches for free.

"We set it up so that 16 to 18 year olds can shadow our teams and get a flavour for what working at Pret is like.

"We’ve seen how passionately people feel about the initiative, and in response I would like to confirm that we will pay all participants Pret’s starting hourly rate and of course provide free food as well.”

In a blog post on the company's website, it says this is to tackle the “long-term challenge that Pret and the wider industry must meet to ensure hospitality is seen by Brits as a serious career choice”.

The sandwich chain will be promoting the work experience through schools it works with already, and through a social media campaign.

Andrea Wareham, the human resources director at the company, wrote: "Attracting British applicants is not exclusively a Pret problem, and is symptomatic of a wider cultural bias. British schools and parents don’t always take careers in the hospitality industry seriously, but they really ought to.

"The industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years and today it is strong, dynamic and growing."

Many on social media have criticised the scheme.

One person tweeted: "Pret A Manger should pay for workers to work. Let's put the idea that people work for free back in the box."

Journalist Janice Turner wrote: "Fancy an 'internship' making sandwiches? You won't be paid but they'll 'give you food'. No wonder only migrants apply to work at Pret."

Tanya de Grunwald of Graduate Fog, a website campaigning for fair internships, told The Guardian the work experience should be paid.

She said: “The best kind of experience is hands-on experience where it is really clear that the young worker has set hours and responsibilities and is doing proper work. By law, if that’s the case they should be paid.”

Another critic tweeted: "Sure! 16-18 yes old kids will be lining up to work for free at pret a manger this summer. #jokers."

Ms de Grunwald pointed out that the minimum wage for under-18s is just £4 an hour, which would make employing them over the summer cheap.

She said: “If Pret really wants to impress this age group they should be paying [the work experience participants]."

The sandwich chain said it hoped to employ in permanent roles some of the people from the work experience scheme and would stay in touch with those who wanted to remain in education and apply at a later stage.

It pointed out that the placements "are to give participants experience of what it's like working in the industry".

The chain also told The Telegraph the teenagers will be "shadowing" current members of staff, and will not have to make sandwiches themselves.

 

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