Hospitality workers abused by customers – and colleagues

A SURVEY of Scottish hospitality workers has painted a grim picture of the abuse many of them face on a regular basis.

No less than 95% of respondents said that they had either witnessed or personally experienced abuse during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a University of Strathclyde report conducted between June and October 2020 – covering the period when hospitality venues reopened following the first national lockdown, under legally-imposed social distancing measures.

Nearly 300 workers responded to the survey, and reported that while three-quarters of the abuse came from customers, some was also perpetrated by owners, managers or colleagues.

This abuse took the form of verbal, psychological, physical, racial, ethnic or sexual abuse, as well as sexual harassment and bullying. However, the majority of respondents did not officially report what they endured or witnessed, saying that they felt such abuse was something to be ‘accepted’ by hospitality sector workers.

The Strathclyde survey was based on the Fair Work principles of fairness in pay, conditions, contracts, management and representation – and found that more than a third of respondents claimed not to have signed a contract prior to starting their most recent job.

Some also stated that they were not being paid the National Minimum Wage and even when they were, many had little or no scope for pay rises.

Although the majority of respondents were on full-time contracts, a number were on ‘precarious contracts’. Many staff reported working beyond their contracted hours with no overtime pay, no holiday pay entitlement and regularly working through their scheduled breaks. Nearly 80% of respondents said that they were required to work through public holidays without receiving any overtime pay or extra time off.

The survey found that fewer than 6% of respondents were trade union members. The stated reasons for this included a lack of belief that their management would approve of them joining a union.

Around a third of respondents stated they did not feel they were treated with respect at work and the same number reported receiving little or no supportive feedback from management. One participant claimed that they believed the cultural view of hospitality workers was to blame, with people thinking of them as people who had ‘failed at education’.

Co-author of the report, Dr Anastasios Hadjisolomou, of Strathclyde’s Department of Work, Employment and Organisation, said: “This study highlights and confirms long-standing employment issues and unfair work in the hospitality industry, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Scotland is a nation with a vision for Fair Work for all. However, for this vision to come to life, we call upon policy makers, employers, employees and their representatives to work together to address these persistent issues and promote fair work.”