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OPINION: The hospitality sector must be regulated, old unions need to adapt

Friday, 17 December 2021 12:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A woman pours beer into a glass at The Fox on the Hill pub in London, Britain, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

No sick pay, no breaks, no meals. This is what happens in an industry that exploits workers with no consequences and little help from large unions.

By Rachael Baylis, “wannabe revolutionary” and ex-hospitality staff member

I graduated from university this summer and I decided to begin a career and get a 9-5.

I got into an admin internship through the university which got made permanent, but I realised I had no money, and I was just miserable. I got a weekend job at the pub shortly after being made full time in the attempt to gain financial stability.

I started feeling really, really sick on Tuesday and I spent two-to-three hours passing in and out of consciousness.

I literally had nightmares about messaging my manager saying I was ill because I thought he would just fire me – he has a reputation for not accepting absence and firing people on the spot.

I thought, ‘well I'll go into work and I'll do a lateral flow test, since there's not much else I can do’ thinking it was just a bad cold/flu.

The pub’s sickness policy is that if you are sick, you have to get a taxi into work to prove that you're sick, and then that’s when you get sent home. The manager introduced this policy in the summer since staff would get drunk and then they wouldn't turn up to work, so they called in sick, which I can kind of see where he's coming from, but it's not summer.

It’s winter and with rising covid numbers, there is no need for that policy to be implemented.

The next day another staff member tested positive for covid and at that moment I knew I wouldn’t be going into work until I had a test. I told my manager this and he said it was unacceptable. At which point I refused and said, ‘I'm not coming in tonight and waiting for PCR results, consider this my notice’, because I knew I was going to get fired.


I've been a member of union and I did actually try to unionise a hotel in Brighton, but it was really difficult.

I'm fully up for unions. I just don't even know how to go about convincing people that don't already know about unions or strikes.

I just found that the union that I was with at one point were not very supportive, plus the literature that they gave me wasn't very convincing in terms of why someone else should join a union.

I left my union during the pandemic as I had 32 pence left in my overdraft, so I didn't really have the money and I just never got around to re-joining since.

I just think that maybe the bigger ones aren't fully adapted to the gig economy at this point, and I think a lot of the smaller ones are doing a better job, like United Voices of the World (UVW) or Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

My position is that the old unions are still based in this mindset of a centralised form of manufacturing production with everyone working in the same shift for 40 years, rather than it being more flexible.

Plus, there’s a massive difference in the hospitality sector where it's also full of people where it's not their career, not their livelihood, with a lot of students, part-timers or people that are just looking to make more money on the weekend.


This isn't just one pub. There’s a system where hospitality workers are not seen as real people by the way we’re treated by bosses and customers at times.

We don't get sick pay. We don’t get given days off sick. We’re not given any breaks. Sometimes we don't even get proper meals when we’re on a shift.

There needs to be higher regulation in the hospitality industry and there needs to be proper sick pay for all staff since people end up coming into work with covid symptoms because of this issue.

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