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Union defends National Waiters' Day protests

21 May 2015 by

Unite has defended its decision to hold protests to coincide with National Waiters' Day and claimed that working conditions in the industry remained below that of other sectors.

The union has planned a series of demonstrations about zero hours contracts and tip distribution to coincide with today's event. It said it would lead protests outside Pizza Express' flagship Leicester Square restaurant at midday and at the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane at 4pm.

Kevin Curran, chair of the Unite Union central London hotel workers branch said that while the union supported National Waiters' Day, it wanted to shift the focus onto the reasons for the difficulties in recruitment into the industry.

"We celebrate National Waiters' Day and want people to enjoy it," he said. "But just pr stunts aren't going to work. We need to give the industry some status, and that means rewarding it appropriately."

He added that the industry needed to address the fundamental issues behind the lack of recognition for front of house employees in the service sector.

"If you look at other countries waiting staff have status - they are trained, developed and appreciated. Here, that's not the case. The central question for employers seems to be: how can we get our labour cheaper than we've already got it?

"There will always be casualization in the industry, but the leaders should be looking to professionalise the industry and make it a rewarding career."

On its decision to target Pizza Express over tronc handling charges, Curran accepted that administration charges were a part of business but that they were excessive in hospitality.

"Most of the public think they're giving 10% to the waiting staff for good service, and we want to encourage that," he said. "But we're saying that 8% for handling charges is too much. In other sectors of the economy handling charges are more like 1-4%."

After protesting outside Pizza Express today, the demonstrations will move to Grosvenor House.

"We're going there for historical reasons," Curran explained. "In the 80s banqueting staff had a dispute about casual labour. They were almost permanent casuals.

"The employers took it to court and they succeeded in winning the argument that the staff were in fact not employees. That essentially laid the foundations for the whole zero hours contracts.

"It's now an issue for the service economy as a whole. Employers are using it is an opportunity to drive down terms and conditions."

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