Dozens of workers in the hospitality industry, Unite members, stood together in socially distanced solidarity at a pair of demonstrations today (July 21) to call on employers and the government to save their jobs.
Two Unite demonstrations were staged in defence of hospitality workers – one in London, where workers from the capital’s hotels and restaurants gathered outside Parliament to deliver a letter to the tourism minister Nigel Huddleston MP. In the letter, they’ve asked for a more formal video conference meeting to talk about the challenges facing the sector from a worker’s perspective.
Meanwhile a simultaneous protest was held in Belfast, where hospitality workers there gathered outside the Stormont Parliament Buildings to press their case and delivered a letter to economy minister Diane Dodds also asking for a meeting.
The hospitality industry, including hotels, pubs, restaurants, and other venues, has been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, but Unite has highlighted that employers in the sector have abused the government’s furlough scheme and have precipitated a wave of unnecessary redundancies.
Speaking to UniteLIVE after today’s demonstration in London, Unite national officer Dave Turnbull hailed the demo’s turnout.
“We had about sixty Unite hospitality members turn out to the socially distanced protest. They were mostly hotel and restaurant workers, including from Firmdale, Millennium and Hilton Hotel chains as well as from the Casual Dining Group and Pret-a-Manger, all of whom are either under threat of redundancy or have already been made redundant,” he said. “These workers feel that employers have cheated the government out of money by abusing the furlough scheme and have subsequently cheated them out of their jobs.”
“So far the government has only heard from the hospitality industry from the perspective of employers and that needs to change. We believe it is vital that the tourism minister hear the perspective of workers and how they’ve been treated first-hand.”
Unite regional hospitality organiser Neil Moore agreed as a he highlighted the situation in Northern Ireland.
“Unite has commissioned research which indicates that between ten and fifteen thousand hospitality workers in Northern Ireland face the threat of redundancy in the coming weeks,” he said.
“While nearly every whim of business owners have been central to the plans to reopen this industry – the voice of workers has been totally excluded. We have genuine concerns for safety and for our industry.”
At the hospitality protest in Belfast, workers in the industry were joined by private and public sector workers in solidarity, Moore explained.
“Whether you work in a factory or a hospital – you like to go out for a meal and enjoy yourself – hospitality workers are key to that,” he said. “Other workers who are starting to go out and socialise again are asking us which bars and pubs have been decent to workers throughout this, they want to know where to avoid.”
Turnbull went on to explain how Unite believes employers in the industry have abused the government’s furlough scheme and the public’s trust.
“The furlough scheme is meant to incentivise employers to keep their workforce on their payrolls until the economic situation improves and demand picks up. But far too many hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses have made or plan to make redundancies long before the furlough scheme ends in October. They’re telling the government, ‘Well now that we’re allowed to re-open we’ve brought back one-third of our workforce.’ That shouldn’t be the story – the story should be why have they prematurely sacked two-thirds of their workforce?”
Unite is now calling for a number of measures to protect workers in hospitality, including an extension of the job retention scheme with sector specific flexibilities for hospitality, as well as specific measures to protect the jobs of over 25s, instead of the focus being exclusively on allowing employers to access schemes for under 25s, which is open to abuse.
Unite is also calling for the National Living Wage to be increased to £10 an hour with no age restrictions and for the government to finally legislate to give workers 100 per cent of tips and service charge payments, as promised in October 2019.
Lastly, Unite has also urged the industry to create sustainable business models with a focus on retaining and upskilling staff.
By Hajera Blagg