Brighton hospitality worker gets paid after a single picket

A Brighton hospitality worker supported by SolFed has won a victory against the exploitative conditions prevalent in the local hospitality sector, as a restaurant paid £1,200 in response to pay demands made by the worker.

The public campaign in support of the worker ended after a single picket - and some back-and-forth emailing - with the worker receiving all the money she had asked for.

The worker's demand of £1200 was in relation to outstanding pay. Unusually, the worker had been told she would be paid a set weekly amount, depending on whether she worked 5 or 6 days. Her contract stipulated that she was employed and paid for 32 hours a week. However, since work days usually lasted around 11 hours, in reality she worked close to double what she had been contracted for.

The worker explained: “After my unpaid trial shift, my manager and me had a chat about pay. He told me that their workers don't get paid per hour, they get paid per week. They simply paid me £340 for a 6-day week and £280 for a five-day week.

It is a basic workplace right that workers are told in writing how much they get paid, with the minimum wage defined per hour. As of 1. April 2018, the minimum wage stands at £7.83 per hour for over-25s, £7.38 per hour for 21-24, £5.90 per hour for 18-20, and £4.20 for under 18s.

There was also a problem around paid holidays, which were not specified in the minimal “contract” the worker had been given. According to labour legislation, every worker has a right to at least 28 days paid holidays per year (including public holidays ) for a full time worker. In the situation of casualised working conditions, such as in this case, paid holidays can be worked out easily per hour worked, using the official calculator. Paid holidays start from the day the job starts, and in the case where worker has paid leave left when their job finishes, they need to receive payment in lieu of holidays.

In the present case, no holiday pay was made to the worker when she was dismissed from her job. In fact, when her job was terminated unexpectedly after an argument with a co-worker, resulting from a wider climate of tension in the workplace, the restaurant threatened to not pay 6 days that had already been worked. When the restaurant ignored her requests for outstanding pay, the worker contacted Brighton SolFed.

Following a letter from SolFed, the company investigated the events which had led to the dismissal. At first, the company attempted to dodge the issue, and lower amounts were offered. However, sustained pressure and the immediate threat of further pickets soon led to a full climb down. While the restaurant has made no admission of wrongdoing, they paid up in full– one part in outstanding pay including holiday pay, and another part as a “goodwill” payment.

“I'm really happy. Although I suffered for two months, in the end I got all the money I was owed.”

“When you're in that situation it can be hard to see what's happening. Open your eyes - you can do better and there's people out there who can help you.”

SolFed is often asked why we don't go through the ‘proper channels’ like employment tribunals or ACAS (the arbitration service) where there are clear breaches of employment rights. Employment tribunals can only be used by workers who have been employed in a company for 2 years, which excludes many people in casualised jobs.

However, even when these options are available they are not designed to work in our interests. At worst their function is to block and frustrate workers with a  grievance by tying them up in procedures. At best they are staffed by people who think workers and bosses have equal rights. This is something we reject because it ignores power relations in work and so props up a system that says it's ok for bosses to profit from the work of others.

What this short dispute shows to workers and bosses alike, is what can be achieved with solidarity and direct action which keeps the worker fully in control of their dispute.

Wage theft is rife in the hospitality sector in Brighton, but SolFed’s hospitality worker campaign has already won tens of thousands of pounds of holiday pay for exploited staff in hotels and restaurants. Do you want to join the fight against wage theft and casualisation? Whether you're having difficulties in your workplace or just want to be a part of it, get in touch at brighton@solfed.org.uk.