Support for the Wetherspoon workers on strike, from a former kitchen assistant
We received the following article from a trade unionist and former Wetherspoon employee in Coventry.
As a former employee of Wetherspoon who worked in the kitchens, I completely support the strike by the staff at The Bright Helm and The Post & Telegraph in Brighton. The staff deserve a decent living wage, and union recognition to fight the exploitation they routinely face at work.
Let’s talk about the wages first of all.
Tim Martin, chairman and founder of Wetherspoon, was a vocal opponent of the Tories’ paltry “National Living Wage” and any minimum wage increases beyond that. He claimed such increases in wages for his staff would force pubs to close.
His estimated worth is £448 million, and in 2017 Wetherspoon pulled in a net worth of over £56 million. Meanwhile his staff are frequently in debt, sometimes with half their income going on rent alone.
Students working at the pubs grab all the hours they can get in between lectures, losing vital study time so they can balance their income alongside the failed student loan system.
Non-students tend to work over 40 hours a week so they can make a reasonable living off of their wages. I witnessed one kitchen assistant break down into tears after finding out her boyfriend had lost his job. She would have to work all the hours she could to make up the difference, and she was already doing over 40 hours a week. To add to the hurt, for the next hour after hearing this news she was the only person working in the kitchen – so all work was on her.
A real living wage of £10 an hour would end the suffering of poverty and debt of a large number of Wetherspoon’s 37,000 employees. With the huge wealth of Wetherspoon and its top bosses, it can easily afford a pay increase.
Now there’s the huge range of issues of working conditions.
I’ve never known a Wetherspoon kitchen that was ever well-staffed.
The workers are almost constantly under stress, and the emotional toll becomes clear after a couple of months working there.
Staff are angry at each other, every lunch and dinner shift involves shouting and swearing and frustration.
At the busiest times and on closing shifts, staff can be discouraged from taking the breaks they have a legal right to, because there are not enough staff to manage the kitchen.
Everyone gets burns. Its a fact of working in the Wetherspoon kitchen. At lunch and dinner you’re too busy to pick up protective equipment – if the kitchen has any – to move hot food out of the microwaves, to take care when handling the deep fryers or managing the large grills.
Officially there is a myriad of rules in place to prevent workplace injuries, and to deal with and report any injuries that may occur. The reality is with short-staffing the kitchen cannot manage its demand of completing all meals within 10 minutes if 1 or as few as 3 staff at lunchtime has to take a short break to deal with a burn for 5 minutes, and certainly not when only one person is left in the kitchen. It just doesn’t happen.
In short, reaching targets while under-staffed and boosting the huge profits of the business becomes far more important that the well-being of the staff.
Trade unions are necessary in a workplace like Wetherspoon to properly represent workers and provide a strong collective voice for their demands. Wetherspoon workers do not want to be short-staffed continuously, they do not want to suffer burns and other injuries, they want their right to take breaks respected, and they want a workplace free of stress in which they can work professionally and be proud of what they do.
The upcoming strikes are a small but fantastic sign of the growing organisation of young workers in precarious employment where it has been so difficult to effectively organise before, and where such grotesque exploitation as described above has been rampant. Just after the strike ballots at Wetherspoon were announced, 18-20 year old pay rates were abolished and an annual pay award was brought forward from April 2019 to November 2018. That is the result of only two pubs out of nearly 1,000 pubs and hotels under the Wetherspoon chain taking action. This clearly demonstrates the power that workers have when they come together and organise to make demands. If you fight, you can win!