Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland hospitality workers urged to unionise to fight exploitation

Neil Moore has urged local bar and restaurant staff to join Unite
Neil Moore has urged local bar and restaurant staff to join Unite
Emma Deighan

By Emma Deighan

The hospitality arm of trade union Unite is calling on bar and restaurant staff to sign up to challenge any exploitation in the sector.

Unite Hospitality, which set up a Northern Ireland branch last year, told the Belfast Telegraph that it believes many workers in the trade are afraid to challenge workplace issues because of a previous lack of support.

Neil Moore, hospitality organiser for the union here, said: "The hospitality industry has a poor reputation among many workers.

"Discrimination and harassment is one of the more serious issues experienced across the sector, as well as mental health problems, work-life balance and zero hour contracts. We want a zero tolerance policy for harassment, and while many workplaces offer that on paper, they rarely practise it.

"We deal with cases of sexual assault from customers to staff and we find there's a general attitude of what's unacceptable behaviour in a supermarket is suddenly acceptable in the environment of a licensed premise.

"Managers are resistant to barring people or threatening to sack in cases where it's members of staff.

"Overworking contracted hours is another issue that is endemic and is, in some cases, in breach of minimum wage, and because the industry hasn't been unionised there hasn't been anyone who has really challenged this."

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Mr Moore said the union will seek to educate staff about their rights and also educate business owners "about unconscious breaches of working law".

He said the union is currently working on a number of cases involving "high-profile" hospitality establishments here, which it will make public soon.

"These cases have similar problems such as working conditions decreasing over time, and while employers might have gotten away with that over a period of time when there was low employment, that's not the case anymore.

"The industry is losing staff because of conditions.

"Those who might have considered a long-term career in the sector are now leaving and we see that reflected in a lot of comments we get." At present Unite Hospitality NI has 300 members representing around three per cent of the trade.

"What we're demanding is not by any stretch revolutionary demands," he added.

"We want the living wage, guaranteed hours and we understand a need for flexibility.

"So far we have been successful in getting staff working at a local coffee chain taken off zero hour contracts."

He said the branch was set up in response to the success of Unite Hospitality's Scottish base, adding that the union's campaigns will be "fun and outside the box".

Among its recent campaigns is Unite Hospitality NI's bid to extend British legislation to make illegal the deduction of staff tips by bosses.

And last winter it launched a 'Give us the Goss on your Boss' survey.

"People vote with their feet, and if we can get those places where there is bad employment practices out there (in the public domain), then it will make change," said Mr Moore.

Belfast Telegraph