Restaurant worker wins big pay-out in wage theft dispute

A Brighton Hospitality Workers sticker
A Brighton Hospitality Workers sticker

A worker in Brighton, UK has won over £20,000 in unpaid holiday and wages in a dispute with a restaurant.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 22, 2017

João worked at the restaurant from 2009 until a few months ago, and on leaving calculated that they had been short-changed for tens of thousands of pounds.

He had been working 65-hour weeks for less than minimum wage. João, who has a precarious migration status, then contacted a local union for help.

The restaurant is not being named, as the claim was settled on the eve of a public campaign by the Brighton Solidarity Federation (BSF), an anarcho-syndicalist union in the seaside town.

After several weeks of negotiation £23,000 will be paid to João in five installments, the first of which has already been paid.

A BSF member familiar with the case told libcom that this was not the first dispute with this restaurant.

“We had a dispute with the same place 3 years ago with a worker from Spain, which was also successful before it became an open public conflict.

“At the time we were aware of some workers being made to work over 60 hours a week at below minimum wage, in highly irregular conditions, but they felt too vulnerable to be involved in a dispute.

“However, as a result of the first dispute, the place tried to regularise the working conditions of all their workers as they realised what a vulnerability this was.

“This is what enabled this worker now, 3 years later, to be in a position to take on their employer when the job finished."

Brighton is an historic seaside resort, with ‘caring, leisure and other service’ sectors accounting for around 1-in-10 jobs in the city.

The city’s hospitality sector employs large numbers of migrant workers, young people, and students on a casualised basis, making it difficult for workers to assert their rights.

Problems like wage theft, zero hours contracts, and dismissal without notice are common.

Since October 2013, BSF’s Brighton Hospitality Workers campaign has been organising in the city’s hospitality sector, covering restaurants, cafes, pubs, and hotels.

The campaign uses direct action tactics such as picketing to support current and former workers taking on their bosses, and aims to develop self-organised workplace solidarity in the sector.

Disputes have often taken on issues of wage theft or non-payment of sick or severance pay, with the typical sums involved being around £1000.

The campaign has also won reinstatement following unfair dismissal, and supported workers dealing with bullying at work.

Note: The worker’s name has been changed to protect their anonymity