Elected officer in Unite Bar and Restaurant Workers (personal capacity)
Before the pandemic, workers in the hospitality sector were already facing huge problems. We are one of the most overworked, mistreated and underpaid set of workers. Now, following lockdowns, the sector is facing one of the worst recruitment crises.
The Office for National Statistics reported that between November 2021 and January 2022, empty roles in the sector were at a high of 178,300. This is an increase of 84,000 on that period in the previous year, and a 13.6% increase from the previous quarter.
And it’s only getting worse. I’ve experienced it in my own pub, where we can find staff but we always seem to be one member short. On the one hand, this presents a real problem as the staff that are already overworked will be made to fill the gaps. However, if we are able to organise, it puts us in a very strong position to win demands off the bosses.
This is happening, although still in an embryonic stage. Hospitality workers like myself are organising. The national Unite leaders in our sector are regularly coming together to map priorities for the industry and what is needed to achieve real change. For instance, in London bars and restaurants we’ve highlighted the success of coffee-shop organising in the US, and are looking to replicate that here.
Similar to the industry itself, the activists and lay officials are mostly young workers. Like me, they have only known rampant neo-liberalism – privatisation and deregulation – and extreme austerity, and have been looking for an alternative.
Under the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, many saw avenues a fightback and got involved in the union to change our industry. Even though Corbyn was defeated in the Labour Party, this mood hasn’t dissipated. Young workers involved in struggle haven’t gone anywhere and Unite Hospitality is a great example of that. We are young workers who see real change is needed for us to live our lives.
That change includes an end to zero hours, £15-an-hour minimum wage without exemptions, safe travel, proper training, consultation on rotas, trade union recognition, and fair tipping policies! But most of all we need socialism!