Whitbread, owners of Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, has pulled out of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which the Unite union has called "a slap in the face" to its 50,000 strong UK workforce.
Whitbread was granted foundation stage membership 18 months ago, but resigned yesterday.
Unite said Whitbread "refused to accept that the ETI's nine good labour practice codes apply equally to its directly employed UK workforce as to workers in its overseas supply chain".
Rhys McCarthy, Unite national officer said: "Whitbread's resignation from the ETI is a snub to the workforce. We had high hopes that its membership would open the door to better union relations in the notoriously anti-union and exploitative UK hospitality sector. It is deeply disappointing that Whitbread would rather pull the plug on its application to become an accredited ETI member, than work with Unite to become a genuinely ethic and sustainable employer to its UK workforce.
"The UK hospitality industry is fundamentally unethical. It is built on low pay, long hours and exploitation; workers have few rights and little power. It's time for the industry to stop seeing unions as ‘the enemy within' and start working with us to change and improve the way it operates."
Unite claims that Whitbread was trying to keep the union out by "offering to bring in actors to play trade union officials to speak to workers, as well as gagging workers from discussing trade unions at work."
Whitbread denied these claims. In a statement, Whitbread said: "Since we joined the ETI in 2016, we have been subject to false allegations from Unite about our employment practices, specifically around our policy towards union membership, and Unite allege that we do not comply with the ETI base code. This is untrue and the ETI have confirmed that we met our obligations as a foundation stage member.
"We are passionate about creating a great place to work and giving people the skills and opportunities to progress. Our training programmes and pay for progression policy enables employees to increase their pay and benefits in line with increasing their skills.
"We have an open policy towards our employees belonging to a union. Our employees are completely free to talk to a union, to discuss trade unions in the workplace and to invite a union representative to join them at formal meetings. We have a number of unionised team members who are affiliated with a range of different unions."
The ETI is an alliance of companies, NGOs and trade unions that promotes respect for workers' rights around the globe. Members include the Body Shop, Co-op and H&M.
By signing up to the ETI, companies commit to adopting the ETI base code, which is founded on International Labour Organisation conventions and is an internationally recognised code of labour practice.
Videos from The Caterer archives