Unite exposes scale of use of unpaid shifts by unscrupulous bosses and demands fair pay for work performed
In absence of legislation to outlaw practice, the only protection young workers have is to join a union and get organised to secure their rights
June 24th: Neil Moore, Unite the union Hospitality Organiser in Northern Ireland explained the situation facing young workers in the sector:
“The issue of unpaid shifts is not confined to the hospitality sector but this is where it is most prevalent. Reports from our members suggest the practice is becoming rampant right across the industry: from hotels to coffee shops, restaurants to bars – from the small family run businesses right up to multinational, highly profitable chains.
“It’s not just the case of an unpaid trial shift but often multiple shifts. In some cases, ‘unpaid shifts’ appear to be part of the business model being used to cover staff absence or ensure additional staff for busy periods. It is a basic principle that anyone doing a fair day’s work should receive a fair day’s pay.
“What is happening here in most cases is wage theft – pure and simple – and it is being done on an industrial scale. A study by Middlesex University last year estimated the practice allowed bosses to benefit to the tune of around £3 billion a year across the UK.
“Unite has reported a six-fold increase in complaints relating to unpaid trial work over the last three-years and across the UK and Ireland we receive between 15 and 20 complaints a week concerning this specific practice. “Some local examples include a local group of bars which expects new applicants to work two or three shifts unpaid; a local coffee business that offered a trial shift to an experienced barista who completed it, was praised for his performance and then given more shifts the following weekend – when he asked about payment arrangements he was told not to bring up money and since was essentially ghosted by the employer in subsequent texts and emails asking if he had got the position; a restaurant in Belfast city centre made one of our members work an unpaid trial shift but then the owner claimed that he was too busy to adequately observe how they had performed so he asked our member to work another four hours for him the following day.
“A recent survey of Unite hospitality members working at one high street restaurant found that 76 of 95 respondents had worked an unpaid shift before being hired. “Unfortunately while it was up and running the Northern Ireland Executive failed to use its powers to do anything about this practice and a Westminster bill to outlaw unpaid shifts was blocked by the Tories last year, despite having the backing of Labour and SNP. The best protection from workers against these sort of exploitative practices is to join a trade union and to get organised”, Mr Moore concluded.