Unite welcomed an announcement from the prime minister Theresa May at the Tory Party conference today (October 1) that the government will introduce legislation barring restaurants from keeping staff tips.
But the union, which has long campaigned for tipping justice — most recently in TGI Fridays strikes — has said more clarity is needed to ensure the new laws are truly fair.
May said in her announcement that the government “wanted to ensure everyone is treated fairly in the workplace” and so it will “introduce new legislation to ensure that workers get to keep all their tips — banning employers from making any deductions.”
Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said that the announcement from the government — which first promised it would tackle tipping abuses in 2015 — is long overdue.
“This step in tackling tipping abuses has been a long time coming and is in no small part down to the determined campaigning of Unite and its members,” he said. “As ever the devil will be in the detail of the legislation the government brings forward.
“There will be question marks as to whether it will deal with the myriad of scams some restaurants use to pilfer staff tips to boost their profits, in addition to dealing with unjust situation at TGI Fridays who use tips left for waiting staff to subsidise the low wages of skilled kitchen staff,” Turnbull added.
“Unite will be seeking assurances from ministers that the legislation the government introduces truly delivers fair tips for some of the lowest paid workers in the UK and that it is done so in a timely manner.”
The announcement comes amid an ongoing dispute with the casual dining restaurant chain TGI Fridays, whose management suddenly pushed through a policy earlier this year that swiped 40 per cent of waiters’ card tips and redistributed it to kitchen staff. The move has cost waiters about £65 in lost earnings each week. Since May, TGI Fridays workers have taken 8 days of strike action.
In 2015, Unite 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.
Some restaurants, however, still deduct up to 10 per cent of card tips from staff including Prezzo, Strada, Zizzi and others.
Unite’s campaign in 2015 also brought pressure to bear down on the government, which promised it would investigate tipping abuses and pledged to end them. But it took 826 days after the consultation on tipping practices first closed for the government to pledge to take action today (October 1).
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey highlighted that the government’s new plans are “ now the fourth policy the Tories have copied from us at their conference, as they desperately try to catch up with Labour. It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.
“It’s a shame that Unite have had to fight so hard to extract this concession from the Tories,” she said. “And if only this pledge went as far as Labour’s promises to precarious and freelance workers. Under Labour, gig economy workers and the self-employed will get sick pay and parental leave, just like everyone else.
“While May has offered to match one of Labour’s policies, we have set out a plan for the biggest extension of individual and collective rights our country has ever seen.”
Turnbull, alongside restaurant critic Jay Rayner and Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the industry trade body Hospitality UK, debated the government’s latest proposals this morning (October 1) on the Victoria Derbyshire programme.
Rayner, who has been a restaurant critic for two decades, said that more than anything clarity is needed in tipping practices.
“But in the long term I find the idea of people working in restaurants are dependent on a reasonable income on the caprices of their customers really rather demeaning,” he said.
Nicholls argued that legislation wasn’t needed because the industry is self-regulating as she highlighted a ‘best code of practice’ that Hospitality UK put together with Unite. But Turnbull said the code hasn’t addressed all the issues because as the law stands now, any tips or service charges are technically the property of restaurants and not waiters.
Rayner countered Nicholls who said tips are a mere top up for waiters whose employers often pay ‘above the Living Wage and national minimum wage.’
“We know that there are restaurants and operators all over the country that are not paying a reasonable wage,” he retorted as he criticised the government for lack of clarity over its new proposals and the general confusion that reigns in the restaurant industry over tips and services charges.
Turnbull likewise criticised the government for lack of clarity.
“If the government’s prosposal is that 100 per cent of tips and service charge should go to staff then it would address these issues,” he said. “But obviously we have yet to see the details and yet to analyse exactly what it is that the government is proposing.”
There was near-unanimous consensus among viewers who tweeted that restaurants should pay their staff better and that they should get to keep their tips.
Northern Ireland – left behind?
Unite has denounced the fact that these new proposals will only apply in England, Wales and Scotland, and not in Northern Ireland.
“There are many questions including whether this legislation will cover all the various scams used by bosses to steal their workers’ tips but the one in the minds of hospitality workers in Northern Ireland will be whether they face being left behind yet again as a result of the protracted political deadlock,” said Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald.
Hospitality worker and Unite activist Neil Moore agreed.
“Hospitality workers in Northern Ireland will be demanding that this legislation be extended to Northern Ireland when it is adopted in England, Scotland and Wales,” he said. “We don’t want to be left behind again as a result of political failure.
“The Conservative party has brought forward this legislation under pressure. Unite the union has been at the fore of efforts to highlight the theft of staff tips by bosses. Our efforts in challenging the exploitation by bosses of hospitality employees will continue – we need to see action on far more issues than just making sure 100% of tips go to workers.”
Moore pointed to the “historic coordinated strike action being taken in McDonald’s, Wetherspoons and TGI Fridays”.
“We can’t afford to rely on the Tory government — the only way for hospitality workers to raise the bar is through being part of a fighting union like Unite.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey hailed the union’s hard work in its fight for tipping justice and better pay and working conditions in the hospitality sector.
“Congratulations to our members fighting for #fairtips including all those who have stood solid on @TGIFridaysUK picket lines,” he tweeted. “The devil of this is of course in the detail, and Unite the Union won’t allow the Tories to let these workers down a moment longer.”