Unite members working for Pizza Express have declared victory for fair tips after an internal Pizza Express committee scrapped a tips allocation plan that saw low-paid waiting staff lose up to £2000 a year.
The plan, suddenly introduced in May by Pizza Express bosses last year, saw the percentage of card tips that wait staff receive slashed from 70 per cent to 50 per cent, with the other 50 per cent going to back-of-house kitchen staff.
The policy was heavily criticised and seen as a way for Pizza Express to boost its profits by underpaying its kitchen staff, then subsidising their wages through tips.
The move hit wait staff particularly hard at a time when the restaurant industry was only beginning to open under eased Covid restrictions and cash tips, which went directly to wait staff, were far less common than before the pandemic.
Staff argued that the plan was especially unfair considering that wait staff are given far fewer guaranteed hours than kitchen staff, are on a lower basic wage to begin with and aren’t eligible for bonuses.
Unite members campaigned heavily against the latest tips injustice from Pizza Express, and thanks to their efforts, in March, an internal Pizza Express committee, established to agree tips allocation, scrapped the policy.
Now, the committee, which is made up of staff representatives across Pizza Express, have agreed to return to the previous system, where wait staff receive 70 per cent of card tips and kitchen staff receive 30 per cent.
Half of the committee is made up of kitchen staff, who themselves agreed the policy was unfair even though they benefited from it – demonstrating just how much the tips allocation plan introduced last May was universally contested.
The Guardian reported that one Pizza Express worker noted that some colleagues had cried with relief after the latest decision was made by the committee, saying that so many had taken a massive financial hit at a time when the cost of living has increased drastically.
“The original decision was insane,” the worker told the Guardian. “The change came in so suddenly that reasonably predictable earnings every month suddenly disappeared. Stuff had to be put on hold.”
This isn’t the first time either that Unite has challenged Pizza Express over unfair tipping – and won. In 2015, Unite campaigned against a policy where an 8 per cent administration fee was deducted from staff card tips.
The concerted campaign, which gained widespread media attention at the time, pushed Pizza Express into changing course – and many other similar chain restaurants that deducted from wait staff card tips also followed suit.
Commenting on the latest Unite victory at Pizza Express, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “This decision is long-overdue and the right move. Congratulations to our Pizza Express waiting staff members who stood firm to fight this unpopular, unfair tipping policy in the face of pressure from the company to stay silent and accept a raw deal.
“This victory sends a clear message throughout the hospitality sector that Unite will challenge and overturn unfair tipping policies – and that this union will not rest in the defence of the jobs, pay and conditions of our members.”
Unite service sector organiser Janet MacLeod, who has supported the workers throughout the most recent campaign, said that Unite and its members at Pizza Express will to continue to campaign with and beyond the casual dining chain for a better deal for workers.
“Our members’ hard work in the teeth of management hostility resulted in the committee first being established and then reversing the company’s appalling policy,” she said.
“Unite will continue to work to improve terms and conditions of all workers at Pizza Express and use this victory to assist workers employed at other outlets in the campaign for fair tips.”
By Hajera Blagg