Anger as Pizza Express deducts wait staff tips

Hospitality tipping law needed as Pizza Express becomes latest restaurant to unfairly deduct staff tips

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Pizza Express is facing a massive backlash from wait staff and customers after the chain restaurant has been found to again be unfairly deducting staff tips.

Unite has reiterated its call for the government to urgently introduce tips legislation when on May 17, the day Pizza Express reopened, the restaurant suddenly decreased the percentage wait staff keep on card tips from 70 per cent to 50 per cent. Pizza Express workers reported they were only told about the change 10 days before reopening.

The move will see wait staff — who already struggle as it is earning only the minimum wage as their base pay — lose up to £2,000 a year. Pizza Express staff have already reported a significant decrease in their take home pay when the restaurant reopened because a shift to contactless payments has meant far fewer customers tip in cash, which waiters keep in full.

At the weekend, the Observer spoke to Pizza Express staff who highlighted the impact that the new card tips deductions have had on them.

“My wages have nosedived,” one Pizza Express worker told the Observer. “The reality is everybody I’m working with is on minimum wage – so that is council tax or a dental bill.”

Pizza Express has justified deducting waiting staff’s card tips so that the tips can be split with kitchen staff such as chefs and cleaners.

But another Pizza Express worker explained how waiting staff have had to face changes to their contracts –  such as the scrapping of paid breaks and extra pay on Sundays and Bank holidays — that mean they have to rely on tips to get by in a way that kitchen staff don’t.

The worker said that compared to kitchen staff, wait staff are given fewer hours, had lower basic pay and are not eligible for bonuses. Unite has also highlighted that Pizza Express is swiping wait staff’s tips so that they don’t have to pay kitchen staff competitive wages.

“The reality is [waiting staff] have to rely on tips,” the worker told the Observer. “When we signed the contract that was the understanding. We are not arguing that chefs and cleaners don’t contribute to service but we agreed to certain terms.”

Pizza Express has claimed that card tips are managed through a ‘tronc’ system, where a committee of workers ostensibly decide how card tips are distributed – but Pizza Express staff have said that this isn’t in fact the case. Instead, the tronc system is led by a head office member who was not elected by wait staff. Staff told the Observer that there is a total lack of transparency over the tronc system, with minutes from meetings not available to staff.

Unite will now be revamping its long-running campaign on tips justice, and argues that the government must now urgently keeps its promises – first made in 2016 – to introduce tips legislation that would ban businesses from swiping staff tips.

The government has pledged on three separate occasions, including in the Queen’s Speech in 2019, that it would introduce laws to tackle tipping abuses but so far no action has been taken.

Unite has also said that such laws are absolutely essential at a time when the hospitality industry is facing massive staff shortages – a consequence, industry insiders have speculated, of Brexit and many hospitality workers leaving the industry permanently during the pandemic to take up new opportunities in different sectors.  

Commenting, Unite national officer for hospitality David Turnbull said, “Unfortunately Pizza Express, like far too many hospitality employers, appears to see its members of staff less as human beings and more as assets to be used or disposed of at will.

“It was only a few months ago that Pizza Express fired 2,500 loyal employees instead of registering them on the job retention scheme,” he added. “Now the company is seeking to hire 1,000 workers, a process made more difficult by sector-wide labour shortages.

“But rather than pay kitchen workers competitive wages to attract applications, Pizza Express is boosting back of house pay by depriving its minimum wage waiting staff of their hard-earned tips, which form a substantial part of their income,” Turnbull continued. “This policy will only lead to more staffing problems, as poorly remunerated workers vote with their feet and potential new hires decide to apply elsewhere.

“Hospitality employers like Pizza Express should not be taking advantage of low paid waiting staff and pitting its employees against each other,” he went on to say. “Instead, restaurants should pay their kitchen workers a decent wage and allow front of house staff 100 per cent of their hard-earned tips.

“In an ideal world waiting staff would be paid enough not to rely on tips. The unlikelihood of that happening, however, means Unite is calling on the government to deliver on its 2019 Queen’s Speech commitment and bring in its promised Fair Tips legislation. This must include a statutory code which provides access to remedy for workers who believe Tronc decisions are being unfairly manipulated to the benefit of their employer.”

By Hajera Blagg

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