Interview: Hospitality workers need to organise

The hospitality sector has experienced an unprecedented level of attacks on workers’ conditions and pay, with the employers utilizing the Covid pandemic and lockdowns as a convenient cover for dodgy employment practices. Despite this, workers in the sector have been attempting to organise together to fight for dignity and respect at work. The Socialist spoke to Neil Moore, organiser for Unite Hospitality in the North and a Socialist Party member.

What is the current state of hospitality post-lockdown?

“Employers in the hospitality sector are reporting a widespread shortage of workers to take on essential responsibilities. This is the chickens coming home to roost for the employers. Even prior to Covid – zero-hour contracts, precarious conditions and low wages were the norm throughout the industry. This was compounded when bosses laid off thousands of workers in response to lockdowns. Even those who retained their workers through furloughing were unhappy at receiving a bare 80% of the disgracefully low minimum wage that they should get work elsewhere. Of course many did and discovered that working elsewhere, in many cases in call centres, in retail or even Amazon – was much preferable to their treatment in the hospitality sector.”

What are the issues hospitality workers face post-reopening?

“In Unite we surveyed hospitality workers on their experiences. The results were shocking. 46% of respondents were considering leaving the industry – with factors pushing workers out of the hospitality/service sector including stress (74%), excessive hours (61%), unsociable hours (58%), low pay (55%), bullying (44%) and lack of career progression opportunities (37%). A staggering 95% of hospitality workers reported experiencing sexual harassment or abuse at their workplace.”

What can workers do to change their working conditions for the better? ­

“Unions should not sit back at this time – we must develop an understanding among workers of the real role collective power they have when they get organised. In 2020, workers in Queen’s  Students’ Union demonstrated this power by coming together, organising in response to their employer not furloughing. They won a significant victory, winning wage support but also trade union recognition. Given the labour shortage in the sector we have two choices: accept more work for less pay alongside the same terrible working conditions, or fight for a living wage, a decent work/life balance, and respect at work. Right now even the bosses are saying workers (particularly highly skilled workers such as chefs) can “name their price”, proving it is workers who hold the real power in the workplace. In order to realise this power and secure better pay and working conditions, workers should join a union, organise with their colleagues and be prepared to challenge the status quo of the bare minimum that the employers arrogantly push us into accepting. “

Challenge sexism in hospitality

By Amy Ferguson

Sexism, a pillar upon which the capitalist system is reliant, permeates many aspects of society. Subsequently, women workers are not free of misogynistic standards and abuse when they clock into work.

In hospitality, this is reflected in a number of ways. Firstly, the industry is notorious for its gendered uniforms; shirts that cling to our hips and reveal our chests. Secondly, a Unite the Union survey found that 90% of workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Poor working conditions exacerbate these issues. Poverty wages mean staff are financially reliant upon tips to help us cover our bills, or even taxis so we can get home safe after late shifts. This means we are pressured into accepting unwanted flirting and touching, and having to ‘look our best’.

Covid has further added fuel to the fire. On top of financial loss and understaffing many women workers are reporting an increase in harassment, frequently being told “take down your mask so I know how to tip you” or “take off your mask so I can see that smile”.

Fortunately, throughout the past year, we have also seen hospitality workers across the globe fight back collectively against sexual harassment, like the recent Paris McDonald’s strike. Organising and taking collective action with your coworkers is vital to breaking with sexist norms, but it also requires taking a political approach, connecting with the demands and aspirations of young people to be free from capitalism’s exploitation and oppression for good.