By Laurence Plunkett
On Monday the 17th of April, Unite Hospitality NI held an open meeting in the Sunflower bar titled “Give the goss on your boss”. A packed room of waiters, bartenders, baristas and fast-food workers shared their war stories of working in the industry.
Hospitality workers fighting back
The night began with three speeches. Amy Ferguson – Unite Hospitality NI branch secretary and Socialist Party member – discussed the need for a hospitality union, stressing the awful working conditions faced by employees. She pointed to big bosses in the industry – such as Caffè Nero and Starbucks – that are raking in the profits and expanding massively while paying their workers a pittance. Amy stressed the need for collective action in order to take the stand against the worst employers, pointing to the recent strike wave across the North as evidence of the power workers have.
Eva Martin followed. As an activist with ROSA – Socialist Feminist movement and the Socialist Party, she highlighted the rampant sexual harassment and assault criminally present in these workplaces. She encouraged communication amongst workers to highlight the issue and unify against it. Unite Hospitality and ROSA are launching a joint charter against workplace harassment.
Finally, Caitlin Lee – a hospitality organiser from Scotland – discussed the success of Unite Hospitality across the North and the UK. She highlighted recent victories in Scotland, outlining rights and remuneration won for workers by joining the union.
Service not servitude
The floor was then opened for discussion and a lively discussion ensued. The sentiment was beyond discontent. Anger emanated from the room and people told increasingly more frustrating stories. Workers spoke about the conditions they face – from managers cutting people’s hours at a whim, being made to work “clopens” (closing shift followed by an opening shift the next day, often without the legal minimum rest break of 11 hours), sexual harassment and the threat of being fired or ostracised for standing up for their rights. Numerous workers pointed out how many bosses in the industry show a total lack of respect for their workers.
A key theme was the need for a union of hospitality workers that could bring workers together to fight collectively in their workplaces, as well as campaigning to improve the sector as a whole. Following concluding remarks from the panel that saw them encourage people to join Unite, many stayed for drinks and chats with reps. Numerous individuals signed up on the night. The meeting clearly struck a nerve and the message was clear: hospitality workers are getting organised and we will be fighting back!