Hospitality Employees Denied Rights

Evidence of significant breaches of basic employment rights to hospitality workers has emerged from a study by a NUI Galway academic.

The breaches span contacts of employment, payslips, working hours and other legal rights.

The study also includes employee testimonies regarding verbal, psychological and physical abuse and the witnessing and experiencing of harassment and bullying.

The absence of mechanisms for employee voice are also striking, whether it be to offer and idea or raise a grievance.

On the positive side, the research participants had clear and concrete suggestions for how working conditions in the sector could be improved.

Dr Deirdre Curran, author of the report plans to work with interested parties to develop policy and practice that would address issues raised in her research

The report presents the findings from a study of working conditions of hospitality workers in Ireland. The research was conducted in 2019 by Dr Curran of the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at the National University of Ireland Galway. It forms Phase 1 of an ongoing research agenda which will be followed by an international comparative study, and a series of 'best practice' case studies. Dr Curran has been teaching about employment relations, employment law, and workplace conflict, for over two decades. Her objectives in conducting this research were to explore levels of ill-treatment in the sector as reported in anecdotal evidence, and to use the research to promote positive change in policy and practice. In this phase of the project, data is presented from a comprehensive survey (completed by 257 hospitality workers), a series of 15 structured audio submissions, and five follow-up interviews.

Dr Curran says that while her work is not claimed as representative of the sector, the findings of this phase of the research ‘make for somewhat shocking and depressing reading’

Respondents were asked about their employment rights specifically: Minimum Wage, Sunday Premium, Holiday Pay, Terms of Employment, Wage Slips, and Rest Breaks. These are legal rights that all employees in Ireland are entitled to. Rates of non-compliance by employers ranged from 12% to 70%. The rights most often denied were Sunday Premium entitlements [70% non-compliant], rest break entitlement [52% non-compliant], and being given a written account of Terms of Employment on commencement [43% non-compliant]. While anything less than 100% indicates a breach of law, the employment rights most likely to be upheld are minimum wage [88% compliant], wages slips [84% compliant], and holiday pay [75% compliant].

‘The findings regarding ill-treatment are stark and somewhat depressing’, Dr. Curran says. ‘Almost 77% of respondents reported experiencing verbal abuse sometimes/often. Almost 64% reported experiencing psychological abuse sometimes/often. 15% reported experiencing physical abuse sometimes/often.

55% of respondents reported witnessing/experiencing harassment. Respondents were invited to provide comments and these included

• ‘Excessive and repetitive giving out to staff over extremely minor things, often even if no mistake was made. Name calling and “joking” sexual comments’.

• I was very badly bullied in my workplace only five years ago. I was ignored, not given breaks but worst of all his wife would come in with little notes explaining things she had seen or heard of happening accuse us of them and then make us sign off on the answers we gave. Eventually I was called into a meeting (where I was not allowed representation) and questioned as to why I never said goodbye going home one day, why I NEARLY didn't charge for a coffee and why I didn't do an order the way she wanted it done. Three days later I was sent a letter of dismissal. I was not allowed back onto the premises to collect my belongings, I did not receive notice, no compensation, not even all my holiday pay. All this from a guy who would not allow me go home the day my partner had a miscarriage as he had "nobody to cover me.

• He would send me emails listing things I did wrong. Worst of all he would cc everyone else in the email so everyone I worked with could see how stupid he thought I was.

• (An older member of bar staff in the restaurant I worked in 2016 acted inappropriately towards me during my time there. He spoke grossly and suggestively to me regularly; both alone, in front of other staff members and in in front of customers. He consequently felt me up in the restaurant kitchen, the action was met with laughter by all who witnessed it.

• -I have been undermined whilst training new staff members in on several occasions in two different jobs. - I have experienced kitchen staff shouting abuse at waiting staff in two of four positions.

• A manager of mine would tell me what staff called me then put me working with them and I was asked to report on them daily.

• One of Chefs exerted psychological pressure and used offensive words as a normal form of contact. Head chef knew about but did nothing.

Respondents 'How are/were tips shared in your workplace?' At the time this research was being conducted the National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017, was being debated in the houses of government. The Bill proposed to make it illegal for employers to withhold tips from staff, and this had generated much media and public debate. The Bill had garnered widespread political support of all parties except the ruling party of the time (Fine Gael) who proposed an alternative Bill that would make it illegal for employers to use tips to supplement wages and nothing beyond that.

Overwhelmingly respondents mentioned 'interacting with people' as a reason why they enjoyed working in hospitality, whether it be co-workers or customers, making friends, interacting with, and learning from, people from different cultures. The satisfaction of delivering a great service and being rewarded with a tip, or a complement to you, and/or your boss, also featured strongly. Other 'likes' included - the ability to build English language competence, learning to deal with challenging customers, working independently, the unpredictability/variety of the work, specialised training (e.g as a sommelier), cooking creativity & innovation, and the day-to-day buzz of a busy establishment

In conclusion, Dr. Curran says that her research indicates that the work experience of hospitality workers is 'less than ideal' and needs further investigation. While enforced shut-downs precipitated by C19, theoretically provided space for reflection and improvement, there is a danger that issues identified pre-pandemic, may simply be exaggerated post-pandemic. Research evidence needs to be gathered to explore the ‘new’ reality. Hospitality workers raised their voices through this research and those voices deserve to be heard. The intention is to circulate this report widely so that these workers come to see that they are being heard. There are unique features of hospitality work that lend it to a culture of ill treatment. However, while that may help explain, it in no way excuses. The Hospitality sector forms an important part of our economy. This importance will be exaggerated as the country strives to recover from the devastating impact of C19. The contention of this report is that addressing some of the issues faced by hospitality workers will benefit the sector in its recovery. Things could be better. Hospitality workers know how to improve the work environment and they have some excellent insights. Their suggestions for change, illustrated in this report, range from no-low-high cost, and short-medium-long term. Hospitality employers need to listen to, and act on, the suggestions of their employees, for the benefit of all. This report contains worrying indications of verbal/psychological/physical ill-treatment, harassment and bullying, along with powerful and compelling oral testimonials. Even accepting that the sample of respondents cannot be representative, these accounts are intolerable and indefensible. There are indications here that hospitality workers love the people dimension of their jobs. They are passionate about people (colleagues, customers) and passionate about service. These passions need to be acknowledged and rewarded.’