Hospitality workers’ health and safety must be guiding principle for new Stormont pandemic measures

Unite members in hospitality call for reintroduction of social distancing, strengthening of mask mandate and introduction of Covid hazard pay with 100 percent furlough and sick pay

Workers challenge confusing moves to introduce covid passports while social distancing and absence of measures to address pay and short-staffing

The Unite hospitality branch, representing workers across the sector, expressed concern at the handling Covid-19 health and safety measures by the Stormont Executive and by employers. 

Secretary of the Unite Hospitality branch in Northern Ireland, Amy Ferguson, challenged the Stormont Executive:

“Our first and greatest priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in our industry. Workers have the right to be protected from a deadly virus while making a living for themselves; we should not have to choose between risking our health and avoiding debt. 

“While we encourage all Hospitality branch members – and those who visit our venues as customers – to take the vaccine to minimise its spread and the risk of developing fatal symptoms of the virus – we are also concerned about the current rules and restrictions being introduced.

“If the Stormont Executive is genuinely committed to minimising the spread of the virus, then the guiding principle needs to be workers’ safety – not making quick bucks for businesses. The introduction of covid passports at the same time as social distancing was dropped is hard to justify. After all, it is the bartenders, baristas, chefs, KPs, housekeepers, waiting staff etc. who are currently risking their health to keep the industry afloat; not the Executive and certainly not business representatives who haven’t been in the line of service for years. Why is it unsafe for office workers to continue working in the office, but hospitality workers must face a Christmas rush without even having social distancing as a buffering measure?

“Over the past year, workloads have sky-rocketed due to understaffing, meaning fewer staff to deliver the same service standards. Understaffing has a quick fix – improving pay and conditions – but the industry bosses ignore that. In addition, our members have to endure endless abuse from customers and covid-deniers when we try to explain the restrictions to them – meaning lower tips and impacting mental health. 

“With the Omicron variant now detected in Northern Ireland and news channels suggesting a January lockdown, we urge employers and the Stormont Executive to have needs of workers in struggling and public-facing industries, like ours, at the forefront of their minds. We are calling for the reintroduction of social distancing, strengthening of the mask mandate, increasing a Covid bonus/hazard pay and a 100 percent furlough and sick pay scheme.”

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