Fix broken tipping system now

Hospitality workers ‘won’t be holding their breath’ over latest gov’t promises on tips legislation

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Repeat a lie often enough, and people will think it’s true – this is the mantra successive Tory governments have adopted, after pledging countless times for more than four years now to introduce legislation on tipping practices in the hospitality industry.  Each time they have failed to do so.

That’s why Unite has taken the latest assurances from business secretary Alok Sharma that the government will take action on tips with less than a grain of salt.

Labour MP and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee Darren Jones, who has long supported Unite on fair tips, raised the issue of the government’s failure on tips on Tuesday (July 21), noting that tips justice was especially crucial now.  

“Hospitality workers who in normal times rely on tips as a significant part of their income have been especially hit, not just because their workplaces have been shut, but because furlough payments haven’t recognised tip-based income,” he said. “The Government has committed to bringing forward legislation to ensure hospitality staff can keep their tips and indeed it was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment.

“When will the legislation be brought to the House?”

Business secretary Alok Sharma responded characteristically of Tory ministers — feigning concern, then yet again giving no firm commitment.  

“The chairman of the select committee raises a very, very important point,” Sharma said. “As he knows, there are a number of emergency Bills that we’ve had to bring forward, but I recognise the point he’s making and we will look to see the earliest point at which we might be able to bring that forward.”

This wasn’t the first time the government said it would act. As far back as 2016, then-business secretary Sajid Javid ordered a consultation on tipping practices that ended in June that year.

Hospitality workers then waited more than two years before prime minister Boris Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May announced in 2018 that she would introduce legislation to bar restaurants from taking staff tips.  She then failed to take any action in her time in office.

Then last year, in a briefing on the Queen’s Speech published by the government, it outlined an Employment (Allocation of Tips) bill which it said will “make sure that tips are kept in full by, or distributed fairly and transparently to, those who work hard to earn them”.

And again, in the latest election last December, a pledge to stop employers from taking staff tips was again included in the Conservative party manifesto.

The issue only continues to remain on the legislative agenda because of the unrelenting efforts of Unite hospitality members.

 Strikes in 2018 at TGI Friday’s drew nationwide attention to the issue of tipping abuses, while in 2015, Unite also led a campaign to end the then-widespread practice of taking a percentage of staff card tips in so-called ‘administrative costs’. The campaign was largely successful, with many restaurants including Pizza Express and others dropping the practice after pressure from Unite.

Still, far too many restaurants and other businesses in hospitality continue to abuse loopholes to swipe staff tips, particularly if customers pay by card, which amid the pandemic has become far more common.

Unite has long said that the only way all employers will end such practices is if they’re made to.

Unite again raised the issue of tips this week (July 21) at demonstrations in London and Belfast, where hospitality workers from both the capital and Northern Ireland took part in socially distanced solidarity to highlight their plight amid the current crisis.

Unite hospitality members handed in a letter to both the tourism minister Nigel Huddleston and the Northern Ireland economy minister Diane Dodds, where they called for a range of measures, including legislation on tips so that workers can keep 100 per cent of the tips that they now so desperately need.

Unite national officer Dave Turnbull voiced scepticism over the business secretary’s latest pronouncements on tips legislation, but added the issue was never more vitally important than now.

“Four years on from the last time a Conservative minister promised action on tips, hospitality workers won’t be holding their breath that this promise will be delivered on,” he said. “The tipping system in this country remains stacked against the workforce and has to be sorted. As more and more customers will want to pay by card and not carry cash, in response to the coronavirus crisis, then all the more need to get this broken system fixed now so that these workers get the wages that they have earned.”

By Hajera Blagg

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