Stormont Executive must intervene to support livelihoods and skills of hospitality and tourism workers

Neil Moore, Unite Hospitality Organiser

After meeting Economy Minister, Diane Dodds, Unite delegation calls for direct financial payments to hospitality workers as previous handouts to businesses have not been passed onto workers on reduced hours and facing redundancy

Call for ban on exploitative practices such as zero-hour contracts, fire and rehire arrangements and bosses’ opportunist reductions of contracted terms

Speaking after a meeting between a delegation of Unite hospitality workers and Economy Minister Diane Dodds, workers called for urgent intervention by the Stormont Executive to safeguard vital jobs and skills in the sector.

Matt Gill, Unite Hospitality representative, who works as a bartender commented:

“Yesterday’s meeting with Minister Diane Dodds offered us an opportunity to raise directly the concerns of workers in our sector. Covid has had a catastrophic impact on hospitality and tourism workers. The sharp increase in jobless figures in no way fully conveys what has happened: there has been a huge wave of hidden job losses and there’s very widespread underemployment across the sector. Without direct financial payments to workers, plans to further restrict opening hours will only mean even greater reductions in incomes – pushing many more into poverty.

“The handouts to bosses to date have not been passed onto hospitality workers like me. Workers faced with the insecurity of reduced hours and the decimation of their jobs, do not care whether support comes from Stormont or Westminster. We aren’t interested in excuses, we need to see urgent action. Direct financial support must be put in place for workers in this industry ahead of the ‘furlough cliff’ at the end of October. The issue of statutory sick pay needs addressed – a mere £95.85 a week leaves workers who need to self-isolate facing extreme privation as a result. We are worried about paying our mortgages or rent and our bills – these supports are too little, but it is not too late to change this.”

Neil Moore, Unite Organiser for the hospitality sector explained issues raised by workers in their meeting with the Economy Minister:

“Hospitality workers sought an ambitious programme of living wage apprenticeships, training and retraining that could transform the need for reduced opening hours into an opportunity to upskill the hospitality and tourism workforce, support jobs and prevent the drain of skills from our economy. They also demanded urgent action to ban exploitative practices such as zero-hour contracts, fire and rehire arrangements and bosses’ opportunist reductions of contracted terms which have devastated so many low-income hospitality workers.

“The Northern Ireland Executive must act to protect workers as Westminster’s Job Support Scheme is not fit for purpose. We need the immediate rollout of a sector-specific, flexible furlough scheme to avoid further job losses – this should be closely audited to avoid abuse by unscrupulous bosses.

Whilst hospitality workers understand that this pandemic needs urgent action to prevent transmission spiralling out of control, any ‘circuit breaker’ or further restrictions being implemented without a safety net for workers will spell disaster. There must be consistency going forward in restrictions and additional health & safety requirements, ensuring they are evidence-based, clear, properly enforced and put public health before private profit.

“Up to this point, the voice of workers has been totally excluded; yesterday’s meeting with the Economy Minister was an opportunity to put forward that voice. Unite will not let the concerns of hospitality workers be ignored. Hospitality and tourism workers not already members of a trade union should join Unite as the best way to defend their interests at this time of mounting insecurity”, Mr Moore concluded.

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