Low paid hospitality workers today (Tuesday June 6) protested outside the Grand Connaught rooms in relation to the low pay and exploitative practices in their sectors and told hospitality bosses to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’.
The Unite members took their message direct to key industry leaders attending the British Hospitality Association’s (BHA) annual hospitality and tourism summit at the venue in London.
They highlighted that the £900 ticket price being charged for the event is equivalent to the monthly take home pay of a waiter or room attendant being paid the so-called national living wage of £7.50 an hour.
Unite, which represents thousands of UK hospitality workers, is calling for a real conversation in hospitality to tackle the problems of low pay, zero hours contracts and the bullying culture that are rife in the industry. These are the key contributing factors to the industry’s ongoing recruitment, retention and skill shortage crisis.
“The industry keeps harping on about changing the public perception of hospitality in order to attract young people to fill vacant positions. Yet it has done nothing to tackle the causes of it,” said Rhys McCarthy, Unite national officer for the services sector.
“The problem is not just that people perceive these jobs to be low paid and exploitative. The problem is that this is very much the reality and that is what needs to change,” he added.
High staff turnover is causing a productivity crisis in the hospitality industry, costing the industry around £274m a year – a situation set to get worse post-Brexit.
“Now faced with a staffing and skills crisis without the flow of EU workers, rather than tackling the deep-seated problems around low pay and exploitation, the industry’s latest gimmick is to call for a so-called barista visa to keep the tap of cheap labour flowing,” said Rhys.
“Plans for a two-year barista visa for low-skilled workers with even less rights will exacerbate the problems around exploitation, while the industry continues to rake in multi-billion pound profits,” he added.
The hospitality industry has relied on EU free movement as a constant flow of cheap labour to exploit. The industry’s calls for a so-called two-year ‘barista’ visa to attract young non-UK nationals, post-Brexit has been slammed by Unite as way to keep wages low and continue their exploitative practices.
“The real conversation in hospitality needs to be around how the industry tackles the low pay, zero hours and exploitative culture which has been allowed to take root over many decades, because without a commitment to improve pay and working conditions nothing will change,” said Rhys.
“Charging £900 a ticket for this event, which is what a minimum-waged waiter earns in a month, shows just how out-of-touch the BHA is,” he added.
Later in the day Unite will convene an alternative event in order for waiting staff, chefs, housekeepers and others to share their experiences. This event will endorse Unite’s Hospitality Workers Charter, launched in Scotland, two weeks ago.
“The industry’s open hostility to trade unions also needs to end so that we can start working together to make work better for everyone in hospitality – not just those that can afford to attend the BHA’s event,” said Rhys.
The UK hospitality industry is the country’s fourth biggest employer, employing over 3m people and represents about a tenth of the UK’s economic wealth, equivalent to £143bn.