George Osborne, a man who looks his sex life is exclusively a sad hand job on his birthday, unveiled his final budget before the election on Wednesday. The Chancellor’s 59 minute speech had us subjected to hearing him inform us that we’re “All in this together” (apparently) which is a hard sentiment to stomach knowing he once ‘flipped’ his second home and is estimated to owe the public purse £55,000. Then came the news that had The Sun and The Lad Bible raising a drink to George Osborne; beer duty is to be cut for the third year running – a whole penny off a pint.
While the quintessential public school boy may seem like the ultimate LAD, helping us booze more for less, let’s look at the bigger picture. The NHS is on the brink of collapsing, millions of families reliant on food banks, and a whole generation barely able to afford rent, let alone a house deposit, yet the Tories want to distract us with the fact they’re knocking 1p off a pint. A penny that you’ll probably leave on the beer soaked mat at the bar (or if you’re in the bottom of your glass if you’re a student playing ‘Save the Queen’.)
“More pubs saved, jobs created, families supported – and a penny off a pint for the third year in a row” George proudly declared to the Deputy Speaker. More jobs. Jobs where the workers have less working rights than an animal appearing on TV, but jobs none the less.
While he may have been quick to claim that citizens of the UK are now better off than five years ago, Osborne neglected to mention that an estimated 5.24 million people in the UK earn below the Living Wage, and over 1.4 million of us are being exploited by zero hour contracts. With last week’s budget, and the Tory peer boss of Next slamming The Living Wage, claiming £6.70 is enough to live on, it’s about time we started asking some serious questions about the Living Wage.
With huge support politically and hundreds of companies already signed up, The Living Wage has heaps of benefits for individuals, businesses and society but worryingly, hardly any hospitality businesses have signed up. From the 1113 businesses that are Living Wage employers, just 24 of those are linked to hospitality jobs. That’s just a 2.1% representation from an industry that accounts for so many professions across the country. The hospitality trade is one of the biggest employment sectors, demanding 855,000 new staff by 2017 to replace those leaving the industry, yet an estimated 85% of employees earn below the threshold.
Officially the lowest paid occupation in the UK, hospitality workers know better than anyone the appalling working practises allowed to go on in 2015 Britain. It’s not the unsociable working hours, or the oh too sociable customers, that make pulling a pint much less fun than it looks on Corrie – it’s the fact you’re more often than not working 50 hour weeks for National Minimum Wage (or less) to make ends meet while on an exploitive zero hour contract.
“My experience with a zero hour contract was absolute hell,” admits Chloe from Liverpool. “I was employed on a zero hour contract at a local pub, which I was wary of, but had no other option with the job market as it was. Initially it was fine – I was a full-time member of staff, regularly doing 35 plus hours a week, and the first time it became an issue was when I became sick and learnt that as a zero hour contract employee I wasn’t entitled to sick pay.”
“One morning I travelled all the way into work to discover the doors were locked and a letter from the bailiffs’ plastered to the window. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I spent all day trying to get through to the owners, who ignored my calls, and eventually learnt, through the local press, that they had fallen behind on rent and the pub would be closed until they paid their back payments. I didn’t get paid on time that week and spent the next two weeks in limbo. I couldn’t go sign on as I technically still had a job so I started to look for other work. The pub eventually reopened two weeks later but the owners didn’t feel the need to apologise to us, or even acknowledge what had happened – it was a fortnight where I didn’t receive any income and truly learnt just how little working rights I have.”
Stories like this are all too common. I’ve personally worked in venues that would take money out of staff wages to cover till shortages (yet bar staff never received a penny should the till be up), bars that forced employees to work on Bank Holidays for regular pay or face being sacked (and that’s totally legal thanks to those lovely zero hour contracts) and clubs where you’re expected to work until 2am, go home and be back in by 9am. What’s that you say, the Daily Rest Rule clearly states you must have an 11 hour break between shifts? Oh that’s so cute. Sadly, zero hour contracts are normally clever enough to include a section where you waive your right to this ‘luxury’.
“Why don’t you just stop complaining – either go on strike or start working in a new industry?” many reader may be pondering right now, mainly those who’ve never had to endure someone ordering a Guinness last on a 20 drink round.
It’s just not that simple. While firstly, we all know how the current job market can be, but have a think about; can you imagine what would happen if say a waiter went on strike? Fed up of having their shift cancelled after already paying to travel in to work, or tired of cleaning human shit from a glass (Yes, I’ve actually heard this happen to more than one person) for no additional pay, a waiter goes on strike to the amusement of their employer. It’s the shortest strike in history as they’re sacked within seconds of expressing disgust at their working environment. You may claim this is unfair dismissal but that’s not something hospitality workers can do, as John tells us.
“I had been working at a city centre restaurant for a few months. It was all going pretty well,” the waiter from Manchester recalls. “But then one shift my manager made a mistake regarding a customer payment from a table in my section. It was quite a large amount and as the owners were in he didn’t want to admit fault so immediately sacked me instead. I got home and straightaway started looking at claiming unfair dismissal. However, I learnt that you can’t put a case forward unless you’ve worked for the employer for at least two years. So that was it – I had been unfairly dismissed from my job and unable to even apply for benefits for weeks.”
While George Osborne and the rest of the Conservative Party may want to think ‘Britain is Working’ they must admit that it’s only working for employers.
Fuck spending a million pounds of tax payer’s money to celebrate the Battle of Aignort, whatever that is. Fuck your insult to the 5.4 million single parent households with the bullshit marriage tax break. And fuck your measly penny off a pint.
Give us a decent living wage and worker’s rights – that’s something I’d drink to.