'Action on tips now'

Hospitality workers protest over lack of action on fair tips as new survey reveals scale of exploitation and abuse in the industry

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Workers in hospitality staged a protest today (July 15) against the government’s failure to introduce long-awaited legislation on tips that was first promised four years ago.

The demonstration was held outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), where Unite members called on the government to make good on its promise to introduce laws that allow workers to keep 100 per cent of their tips.

Protestors later made their way to a nearby Pizza Express, where Unite members demonstrated against a decision by the company that owns the casual dining outlet to increase deductions from staff card tips from 30 per cent to a shocking 50 per cent.

The protests (pictured below) come after Unite gave evidence to the Low Pay Commission, noting that the lack of fair tips legislation, combined with the pandemic, meant that waiting staff’s incomes have plummeted over the last year.

Indeed, one Unite member who works at a major chain restaurant and attended Thursday’s demonstrations told UniteLive that when they started, they earned about £5 an hour on tips – this has nosedived to just over £1 an hour in tips now.

In a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Unite highlighted the government’s on-going failure to introduce the promised tips legislation, despite the pledge being included in the Queen’s Speech in 2019.

Unite warned in the letter that as the hospitality industry opens up, “employers are again interfering with tips allocation and distribution, resulting in substantial cuts in amounts received”.

“This combined with the acceleration of cashless pay and home deliveries, has created a perfect storm which has effectively wiped out the value of the 2020 and 2021 uplifts in the national living wage and the national minimum wage,” the letter continued.

As the country emerges from lockdown restrictions, employers across the hospitality industry have reported significant staff shortages, where in some cases, they cannot find the staff to operate their businesses full-time.

Unite has warned that this is a direct result of workers increasingly reluctant to return to an industry blighted by low pay and poor terms and conditions — which has only been further exacerbated by tips deductions.

Commenting, Unite officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said, “A successful hospitality sector is essential for the recovery of the UK economy, but its return to health will be stifled by severe staff shortages until workers are paid fairly and properly.

“The Conservative government has continued to promise to introduce fair tips legislation and has equally failed to deliver on its warm words,” he added.

“Hospitality workers can’t wait for promises on the never, never, they need action on tips now.

“When legislation is finally introduced it is essential that it is free of loopholes and action is taken to curtail the unethical use of troncs which unscrupulous employers use to divert tips away from waiting staff.”

‘Broken beyond repair’

Thursday’s tips protests come hot on the heels of a new report which has found “systemic labour exploitation and abuse” in the hospitality industry.

The study, carried out by Focus on Labour Exploitation (Flex), surveyed more than 150 workers in the industry, most of whom were migrant workers.

Over a third reported that they were forced to work in dangerous or unsafe conditions, with one worker, who was employed as a kitchen assistant, noting, “I have suffered chemical abrasion on the hands, inhalation of toxic fumes such as phosphoric acid, falls, bruises and injuries due to lack of safety materials, weeks of working six days and 13 uninterrupted hours due to ‘work circumstances.

“This period has been, without any doubt, the worst work and physical experience of my entire life,” he added.

A further third of the 168 hospitality workers surveyed reported that they were paid less than the minimum wage for their age, while a shocking two-thirds said they had experienced abuse based on their race, ethnicity or nationality. Meanwhile, 37 per cent reported that they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Flex, which carried out the study, said that many of those surveyed felt the industry was “broken beyond repair”.

Commenting on the report, Dave Turnbull said, “Unfortunately, the catalogue of abuses outlined in this report are similar to the ones our members working in the sector have experienced for many years from exploitative bosses.

 “There is a clear case for the legislation to be strengthened to stamp out these poor employment practices across the hospitality sector, such as the  abuse of chefs who find themselves pressurised into working way beyond the 48 hour week,” he added.

 “The industry is already suffering from a ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis as restaurants, pubs and bars emerge from the Covid lockdown restrictions next Monday,” Turnbull continued.

 “A survey of hospitality members last summer, who had been redundant during the pandemic, painted a grim picture for the sector’s future – for example, 78 per cent of chefs said they would not recommend the career to school leavers.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Barckley Sumner

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