Jersey – the Channel Island which has proved to be popular home away from home for Kenyan workers

Kenyans working at the Merton Hotel
Merton Hotel restaurant manager Peter Katana with Jane Mwanika, a bar attendant at the Pomme d'Or Hotel are among the Kenyans still working on Jersey. Photo: Andrew Watt

Cows and potatoes are synonymous with the island of Jersey, but what you may also have found in abundance if you’ve visited the island recently, are Kenyans.

Kenyans have been living and working in the hospitality industry on Jersey for just under 20 years, providing an exceptional level of service during that time to holidaymakers and guests on the Channel Island.

Since 2000, one of the initial driving forces behind their recruitment has been the Seymour Hotel Group which runs The Merton Hotel and Suites, the Pomme d’Or Hotel and the Greenhills Country House Hotel, as well as the Watersplash, a Beach Bar/Diner.

Sue Armes, a director of the family run business, told Brits in Kenya how, in 2000 she was approached by a senior chef in the Island (who happened to have a Kenyan wife) to find out whether she would be interested in a ready supply of skilled labour from East Africa to work in her hotels. With recruitment at the time proving to be challenging, Sue was naturally very interested.

But this wasn’t Sue’s first connection to Kenya. Following the end of the Second World War, her grandfather, who had been working in the catering corp of the army, decided to stay in East Africa and ended up running Brunners Hotel (formerly Queens) in Nairobi along with another establishment in the coastal region. He was subsequently assisted by her uncle who still lives in the country, and as a child Sue remembers family holidays in Kenya.

Jambo Suite at the Merton Hotel
A nod to Kenya can be found in the naming of the Jambo (Swahili for ‘hello’) Suite. Photo © Andrew Watt

The first intake of Kenyan staff took place in 2000, and in this first year Sue’s company employed 2 chefs and 4 waiters, two of whom still work on the island. The following year, the number increased to 25, all of whom had attended Utalii Catering College in Nairobi.

In July 2001, the hotels and their Kenyan employees, were visited by a member of staff from the Nairobi college who invited Sue to come and see the training they provided first hand. So that September, she accepted the invitation, but unbeknown to her, she was also expected to attended and speak at a prize giving event at the college.

Her talk clearly resonated with the students as interest in working on Jersey surged, and in 2003 the hotel group recruited 86 Kenyans, who were among the estimated 200 working on the small island.

However, more countries joining the European Union meant the number of people in the open labour market increased, leading to local immigration authorities on the island placing restrictions on work permit recruitment.

Initially, the hospitality industry were told they could not employ any Kenyans, but following strong representations arguing that the Kenyans had become a vital part of the workforce, a concession was reached whereby existing workers could remain, but no new recruitment from Kenya could take place.

Also, changes to working permit regulations meant that anyone who hadn’t attended a recognised hospitality course for at least a year would not be able to return for the following season, meaning their time working on the island came to an end.

With no new permits being issued, the number of Kenyans working on the island has steadily decreased, with the Seymour Hotel Group employing just twenty in 2017. However of those, 14 were in supervisory roles with three of them occupying key management positions; a Human Resources Manager, Front Office Manager and Night Manager.

Jambo the Gorilla at the Merton Hotel
A statue of Jambo the gorilla, who was housed at Durrell Wildlife Park on Jersey, stands in the grounds. Jambo is Swahili for ‘hello’ and the gorilla became famous after protecting a 5-year old who fell into his enclosure in 1986. It was this defence of the child which is credited with changing public perception of the species. Photo © Andrew Watt

A register of workers from 2016 shows just 39 seasonal workers from Kenya were employed on the island that year, a big decrease from the 200 thirteen years previously.
Sue, who has revisited Kenya twice since her trip to Utalii College, is hopeful that once the UK leaves the European Union, recruitment from countries like Kenya could begin again.

“We would love to be able to recruit Kenyans at the same level as we were doing be,” she told us.

“All the Kenyans came with the skills necessary to do their job, which was invaluable because they’ve been able to use those skills to train other staff. So it’s not just been about recruiting them for their own skills but everything else they’ve been able to bring to the company as well,” she explained.

Kenyans are second to none really, with the level of service and skill.

Whether we will see an increase in the number of Kenyan workers on Jersey in years to come remains to be seen, but having experienced for myself the exceptional level of service those I met on the island demonstrated when I stayed at the Merton Hotel, I am personally keeping my fingers crossed.


Seymour Hotels

Seymour Hotels is the largest and longest established hotel group in Jersey.

Founded in 1920, it is still proudly owned and managed by the Seymour family today and consists of three very different hotels providing variety for the whole cross section of visitors to the Island whether for business or leisure.

The 4 star Pomme d’Or Hotel (143 rooms) is based in the heart of St Helier, Jersey’s thriving capital; the 3 star Merton Hotel and Suites (286 rooms and 28 apartments) offers accommodation, facilities and entertainment to suit an entire family’s requirements; and the 4 star Greenhills Country House Hotel (33 rooms) provides outstanding comfort, food and service in a tranquil countryside setting.

The Group’s Watersplash Beach Bar and Diner on the Island’s west coast looks out over St Ouen’s Bay with its rolling surf and amazing sunsets.

For more information visit the Seymour Hotels website.

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