Thursday, 14 October 2010

A year after the "fair tips" law, restaurant workers are still being robbed

In December last year, I commented on how changes in the law on tips paid to service sector workers hadn't prevented abuse by employers. This remains an ongoing issue, and has recently sparked protests from members of Unite the Union a year after the ineffectual change in the law.

The Brighton Solidarity Federation offers a fuller report and analysis;
The beginning of October saw the first anniversary of a change in the law designed to give waiters 100% of their tips. It was brought in because many cafĂ© and restaurant owners were routinely taking advantage of a loophole in the law which allowed them to use their workers’ tips towards the wage bill. Despite being rewarded by customers with extra money for their hard graft, waiters were being paid only the minimum wage by unscrupulous managers.

The then Labour government, prompted by campaigns by Unite the Union, passed the law on 1st October 2009. But one year on, there are still problems front of house. According to Dave Turnbull of Unite, “There are still too many employers who regard tips as a subsidy for low pay and who see the tips and service charge money left by customers as a pot of cash to which they are free to help themselves.

“Unite members working in restaurants, hotels and bars across the country have seen establishments increase the percentage of service charge they deduct from their pay packets.”

Unite’s response to this is to propose further campaigns to get the government to act to put pressure on employers. Some of their members protested outside the Business Department last week, supported by no less than John Prescott, famous ex-shop steward and waiter in the merchant navy – now Lord Prescott.

However, what this demonstrates is the fact that the law is a paper tiger. For a year now the law has demanded that waiters get all of their tips – but employers know that they can find ways to get around it. The law also says that workers must be paid in full for work done – but as the Solidarity Federation has learnt recently rogue employers in Brighton are ignoring this and using the recession as an excuse not to pay up.

No amount of pleading to the government will change this situation. The only sure way of getting what we are legally entitled to is to demand it directly from our bosses in our own workplaces. Workers facing this kind of threat to their livelihoods need to stand together to demand their full wages and tips. This should be backed up with the threat of industrial action appropriate to the situation.
Brighton SolFed offer support to workers in their area looking to enact such threats, and they are not the only group willing to give a hand to workers trying to organise for the first time. The Industrial Workers of the World are also worth contacting, offering a wealth of knowledge, and experience to fellow workers in struggle.

Now, more than ever, we need to build a culture of solidarity across the working class, so that when the ruling class mess with one of us, they’re messing with all of us.