'We must demand better'

The hospitality industry is storing up big problems for the future

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Chancellor’s £10 a head ‘meal deal’, VAT cut and £1,000 bonus is a gift to hospitality bosses. Now they need to stop the sackings and invest in staff to address the sector’s long term future. The chancellor’s emergency mini budget has offered a glimmer of hope to the hospitality industry as it takes its first tentative steps out of the state-imposed lockdown, in this post-Covid 19 world. 

There was the 15% VAT cut on certain hospitality supplies, hotel and holiday accommodation. £1,000 bonus to bosses for every staff member kept on for three months after the furlough scheme ends in October and not forgetting the £10 a head ‘meal deal’ to entice diners back into restaurant during the month of August. 

But now that the government has served up much of what the industry asked for, it’s time that the industry’s leaders, the major employers, row back on the mass redundancies and show the vision the sector needs to thrive long term. 

Hotel bosses of some of the world’s biggest chains have happily claimed millions of pounds from the UK taxpayer-funded job retention scheme, and are now exploiting weaknesses in UK law to get rid of staff in ways that they simply cannot do in their hotels in other parts of the world. It’s not on. 

Ever since the government announced plans to close the furlough scheme, we have seen some of the globe’s wealthiest hotel chains such as Holiday Inn owner IHG, Marriot, Hilton and Millennium in an undignified scramble to shed as many staff as possible before having to pay national insurance and pension contributions for their staff. 

This, combined with closure of hundreds of high street restaurants due to restructuring in companies such as Carluccio’s, The Restaurant Group and the Casual Dining Group, has led to thousands of workers with years of skills and experience being thrown onto the scrap heap. It is these skills and experience which are vital to the sector’s recovery.

But by making staff redundant the industry’s market leaders are storing up big problems for the hospitality industry in the UK. A Unite survey of over 400 hospitality workers currently at risk of redundancy shows that the industry is storing up a huge skills crisis which could damage UK tourism for years to come. 

Over 70 per cent of respondents said that they would leave the sector all together if they are made redundant, with 63 per cent saying that they would not recommend hospitality as a career choice to school leaves. You couldn’t get a starker warning. It’s not right that UK hospitality workers are being forced to take the biggest hit as these companies seek to recoup their losses from the global pandemic. 

It would be hypocritical of these employers to claim that they will create jobs and give young workers entry into the world of work through the new apprenticeship offers if their long serving staff are no longer there to pass on their skills and experience and act as mentors.  

These are market leaders and their unethical conduct is influencing local and regional employers such as the Hastings group in Northern Ireland, the G1 group in Scotland and Firmdale Hotels in London who are now all embracing this short sighted mass lay off strategy. It is time for these employers to offer some sort of pay back in exchange for government support.

They must stop the redundancies, invest in training and upskill their loyal, highly experienced workers. By doing so they would be contributing positively to a sustainable business model for UK tourism fit for purpose in a post Covid / post Brexit economy, rather than recklessly contributing to mass unemployment. 

In the eyes of many loyal workers who delivered massive profits to shareholders in the good years, the damage to their companies reputation is done. 

As one Unite member made redundant after several years of service with a national chain said: “Being angry, stressed, lost…. It’s an understatement. Only those who go through it know. I really feel like a piece of garbage the way I was treated. And I believe this goes to majority of the people who were made redundant. Not even a dog, a cat or any animal is treated like this.” 

We must demand better from these bosses.

By Unite national officer Dave Turnbull

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