10th December 2017 at 1:25 pm #666
I work in a restaurant. They pay less than the minimum wage but say it’s OK because they top it up with tips. Is that allowed?
10th December 2017 at 1:30 pm #668
My name’s Dave Turnbull, I’m a Regional Officer with responsibility for the hospitality sector within Unite the union. (http://www.unitetheunion.org)
It’s completely illegal for restaurants to top up your minimum wage with tips.
I know it’s illegal because we helped make it illegal! We campaigned for that. It was one of our biggest successes.
The Minimum Wage Act says it’s illegal for any employer to use tips, service charge, or gratuities to pay the minimum wage. They actually used about six different descriptions to make sure that an employer couldn’t get round it by calling tips something different!
So at the moment, for example, (2017) the minimum wage is £7.50 for over 25’s, so the employer has to pay you that £7.50 and give the staff their tips on top of it.
This is the story of how we won that campaign.
When we started, the Minimum Wage had just been brought in, and it explicitly said employers were allowed to use tips to pay it.
That used to happen all the time. Employers took maximum advantage of this small loophole. Some places paid £0.50 an hour, then said it was OK because staff got their minimum wage topped up from tips.
Because it was written into law, everybody told us we weren’t going to succeed in getting that changed. Even the TUC and a lot of Labour MPs.
When we started, it was me and five other people. All from four different restaurants – all members of the union. This issue had been coming up time and time again, so I called a meeting and just said, “look, let’s talk about this and see what we can do.”
We decided to talk to other waiting staff, and get them to feed us information. We conducted a survey, drew up lists of which employers were doing this or finding other ways to dip into staff tips.” I then spoke to a media department. We started putting out press releases.
There was just one MP who gave us a little bit of encouragement. He’d asked a question about it in the Commons. We took half a dozen waiters to meet him and he just said in a quite broad Scottish accent, “I’ve done what I can do. You all had better get out on the street and make a lot of bloody noise about this.”
So that’s what we started to do. To start with it was just the six of us in the West End of London, going in to restaurants and talking to staff. But we recruited loads of members and started to have some really well attended meetings.
We called a day of protest outside a number of restaurant chains we had identified as acting unethically when it came to tips.
I had given advice to all the members participating in the protests that if they were interviewed by the media about the campaign, they shouldn’t mention who they work for. They should just say they’re a waiter from a major restaurant chain.
But one member of staff at Pizza Express did mention he worked for Pizza Express and got sacked. And now there was a human interest story, because everybody started asking, ‘why would Pizza Express sack somebody talking about their tips?’
We made his dismissal one of the big issues.
We started regular protests outside Pizza Express, saying ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, why did you sack this guy?’
This achieved more media coverage and created a public awareness. Customers started asking at restaurants ‘what happens to your tips? Do you use them to pay the minimum wage?’
We ran a number of collective grievances where staff supported by the union challenged employers about the way their tips were being shared out.
Companies started to give their staff scripts about what to say. They said “if customers ask you what is happening to the tips, this is what you’ve got to say. And if you deviate from it and we find out, you’re gonna be up for discipline.”
We started telling journalists about that, and they started asking companies. More bad practice was exposed. The pressure just built and built.
We then put a call out to restaurants “if you commit to pay the minimum wage without using tips to top them up, we’ll give you a Fair Tips sticker to put in your window and customer will see that you are an ethical employer”. We launched this at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester and loads of employers in the city took it up.
Then the Daily Mirror took it up and they sponsored the sticker, and we got TGI Fridays and Pizza Hut to sign up and put stickers in all their windows.
So then things started rolling…
People who weren’t willing to listen to us before started listening because new stories about tipping abuse were appearing the media almost every day.
And thanks to that campaign, in the end the Labour government changed the law and closed the loophole in the minimum wage law.
So now it’s illegal for a restaurant to top up wages to the minimum wage with tips.
It happened because six waiters and waitresses decided enough was enough and had the courage to talk to their colleagues, building momentum for something which ultimately changed the law of the land.
The lesson here is that if stuff like this is happening to you, don’t try to do something about it by yourself. You’ve got to turn this into a collective issue.
The first step is to talk to others in the same position.
The simple principle we work on is Meet – Talk – Act – Win.
Try to find five people who are being affected by the issue. Sit down and talk to them about it. Agree what action you need to take. Act on them. Set out to win
If you’re members of Unite then talk your local office, get in contact with your local branch and ask to meet someone to discuss developing an organising plan around your issue.
The Restaurant and Bar Workers Branch has some good guidance on the website. Go to the page marked The Door – http://www.restaurantworkers.co.uk
If you want any more advice on this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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