MPs are joining Unite’s call to put an end to unpaid trial work once and for all as a private member’s bill to ban the practice is up for debate in Parliament tomorrow (March 16).
Asking prospective hires to undertake a trial shift – time for which they are unpaid – has become more and more common in hospitality and other service sectors, and often the applicants don’t end up being hired for the job.
Unite has heard from many members in the hospitality sector that these trials may be a ruse to secure unpaid labour.
At Mark Greenway, a restaurant in Edinburgh, past and present staff told Unite that the eatery would fill dozens of shifts of unpaid trial work each week with prospective hires to cover busy peak periods. At two stores of the Mooboo Bubble Tea chain in Glasgow, Unite has discovered that applicants are asked to undertake 40 hours of unpaid work before even being considered for the job.
And reportedly at Aldi, as many as 150 people per store may be brought in to undertake unpaid trial work at stores across the country.
Unite heard from Nicole, who undertook an unpaid trial shift at Aldi which she called tantamount to “slave labour.”
“They use you to get the shop ready for opening time and get annoyed if you make any mistakes even though you haven’t been trained to do the job,” she said. “They just abandon you and come back moaning that you’ve not finished the million tasks to do. They then emailed me the next day saying I was unsuccessful and that they can’t provide feedback because of the volume of applicants.”
Wig from Aberdeen reported a similar experience at two separate trial shifts at Aldi.
“I was told at the first stage there was roughly 150 people getting interviewed,” he said. “I got through to the third stage which they called the ‘store experience’ stage and pulled out before attending.”
“There has since been heaps of jobs offered and I applied again several months later,” Wig explained. “It was a different person doing the interview. Both claimed to be the area manager. I was told again roughly 150 were being interviewed. This time the ‘store experience’ was the second stage not the third but I didn’t make it that far.”
Overall, Unite has seen a six-fold increase in complaints about unpaid shifts over the last three years.
Stewart McDonald MP, who is tabling tomorrow’s Bill, argued that “people are being asked to try out for jobs that don’t exist.”
“Companies are just trying to cover staff absences in other parts of the business,” he told the BBC. “This is about ending that exploitation and empowering applicants and making sure there is dignity throughout the process.”
McDonald said last month that the Bill – which will have its second parliamentary reading tomorrow (March 16) – is needed now because “the law about this is currently a grey area.”
“In 20 years of the National Minimum Wage Act there hasn’t been one case against the use of unpaid trials shifts,” McDonald pointed out. “Bringing forward a ban of the practice of unpaid trial shifts will make a real difference to the lives of many people – especially young people – throughout Scotland and the UK. It is really encouraging that it already has cross-party support at Westminster.”
Unite Hospitality organiser Bryan Simpson said that the practice “has grown exponentially over the past few years with employers using unpaid trial shifts as free labour mostly to cover staff absence.
“We need to clarify the legal position for employees and employers alike with legislation which ensures that workers get paid properly.”
Unite’s call to end unpaid trial shifts is part of a wider hospitality charter which codifies what is needed to transform the sector for the benefit of its workers.
Key principles in the charter include equal pay for younger workers, an end to zero hours contracts, stronger anti-sexual harassment policies and tips going to staff in full, among other measures.