Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union has today (Thursday 9 April) accused the hospitality industry of blatant opportunism amid mounting evidence that some unscrupulous bosses are using the crisis as a cover to slip in worse terms and conditions and short change staff.
Under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) employers can claim 80 per cent of the normal pay of ‘furloughed’ employees up to £2,500 a month, but instead of inserting a temporary lay-off clause into workers’ contracts by agreement for the duration of the furlough, Hard Rock café and hotel owner, Great London Hospitality (glh) Hotels Ltd and others are seeking to make this clause permanent and unpaid. Lay-off clauses are rare in the hospitality industry.
Examples of bad practice in the sector include:
- Hard Rock café and hotels owner; and Thistle and Amba hotels owner, glh Hotels Ltd: In addition to being asked to sign a temporary variation of contract to allow the company to furlough them, staff are also being urged to accept a change to their contract of employment with the inclusion of a new lay-off and short time working clause, entitling the company to lay-off staff without pay except for statutory guarantee payments or risk not getting paid under the scheme. It has also sought to cut contracted hours.
glh Hotels has also said that it will not pay the extra 20 per cent of staff wages or include tips in its furlough calculations which risks leaving some staff as much as £1,000 short at the end of the month.
- Queen Margaret Union: Thirty-one bar workers, making up two thirds of the workforce, working in the student union, have been told to sign new contracts which ‘terminates’ their employment on 31 May 2020, when the government’s furlough scheme is due to end. The Union has also tried to cut paid breaks from 1.5 hours for every eight hours to 30 minutes.
- Firmdale hotels: the small luxury hotel chain with 10 hotels and eight bars in London and New York, including the Soho Hotel, has also used the crisis to change employment contracts by inserting a permanent and unpaid lay-off and short time working clause into it. Staff fear that if they don’t sign they won’t get paid under the furlough scheme.
- JD Wetherspoon: is unlawfully attempting to prevent staff from seeking advice on their basic employment rights by inserting the following clause into all communications on furlough arrangements and contract matters: “The information contained within this document/email is confidential and owned by JD Wetherspoon Plc. You must not show or discuss it with anyone who is not a company employee. If you do, you will be in breach of your employment contract and disciplinary action may be taken against you. It is also a criminal offence to use the information in this document for any purpose other than for company business.”
Unite regional officer, Dave Turnbull said: “It is completely unacceptable for hospitality bosses to use this crisis as a cover to sneak in detrimental new terms and conditions of employment and cut contracted hours. There is no need for the owner of Hard Rock café and hotels or any employer to insert permanent and unpaid lay-off clauses into workers’ contracts. It’s underhand and cruel.
“The coronavirus crisis has hit workers in hospitality incredibly hard. These are already some of the UK’s worst paid workers. The government has stepped up with its coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS). It’s time for hospitality bosses to stop behaving badly and do the right thing.
“Unite is calling on all employers in hospitality to respect staff and make no detrimental contract changes beyond what is legally required to claim under the government’s furlough scheme. These are exceptional times and not a time to rip off staff.
“We are also urging bosses to top up workers’ wages with the extra 20 per cent as well as including tips (tronc payments) in wage calculations and will be pressing the government to make this change.”