In what’s been widely criticised as a party political broadcast, today’s (October 14) Queen’s Speech, at a time when the government has no majority, was branded by Unite as an empty gesture that was ‘too little, too late’.
The union raised doubts in particular over the government’s proposed bill to ensure hospitality workers receive their tips in full after previous Tory governments failed to tackle the issue despite promises.
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.
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”.
But Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said the union was justifiably sceptical, given the government’s history of failed promises on this issue in particular.
He said, “Whether the government’s promise of a ‘fair tips’ bill amounts to the Michelin starred changes that hospitality staff have been waiting years for, or is yet another dish served cold, is open to question.”
“As ever the devil will be in the detail,” he added. “Unite will be scrutinising the bill to ensure it represents the actions needed to stop greedy bosses pocketing people’s hard earned tips.”
Turnbull highlighted the recent case of Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s, which cut the income of waiting staff in half overnight by including higher paid managers and senior staff in the pooling system used to distribute credit and debit card tips, known as a tronc scheme.
A Unite member and Carluccio’s waiter anonymously told the BBC radio 4 You and Yours programme earlier this month, “There was no notice period for the majority and absolutely no consultation or opportunity to express what we as employees think…on average a full time waiter is losing between £400-£600 a month.”
Turnbull said that the recent events at Carluccio’s showed “the lengths employers will go to manipulate tips in the interests of the business rather than workers”.
He hailed the campaigning of Unite’s hospitality workers, whose efforts – including strikes at TGI Friday’s which drew nationwide attention in 2018 – have ensured that tips justice has been pushed onto the legislative agenda.
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.
But as in the case of Carluccio’s, restaurants still try to claw back tips from low-waged staff since as the law stands now, they’re free to do so.
“That a fair tips bill is finally on the Tory government’s legislative agenda is testament to the campaigning of hospitality workers and Unite, but after years of false promises it remains to be seen whether it will ever actually be served up,” Turnbull said.