By Daisy Bradford, Socialist Alternative (ISA in Scotland, England & Wales)

The head offices of international chain Pizza Express are guilty of decimating the wages and livelihoods of the waiters and chefs who work for them. The attacks come in many forms.

In 2020 Pizza Express fired 2,500 staff members (in the middle of a pandemic!) instead of granting them access to the Job Retention Scheme that has supported millions throughout the crisis. Now the company is attempting, with little success due to sector-wide labour shortages, to hire 1,000 new workers. These new employees will be expected to work more hours (the reduction from 2.5K to 1K workers is massive) on worse contracts (no sick pay, no paid breaks nor extra pay on Sundays/Bank Holidays) than the workers who preceded them. 

The percentage of hard-earned tips going to waiting staff have been slashed from 80% to 50%, in order to subsidise kitchen staff wages. Both groups of staff urgently need a decent pay rise. For this to be real and secure it must be funded by the company itself and guaranteed for all workers. The current plan not only deprives the front-of-house staff of a much-needed portion of their already low income, it also keeps back-of-house staff on low wages with an insecure ‘top-up’ from tips.

Contract amendments mean that workers no longer receive paid breaks nor extra pay on Sundays and Bank holidays. Such changes chip away at an already pitiful wage and the stripping away of 50% of waiting staff tips compounds this hardship.  One worker told The Guardian “When we signed the contract that was the understanding. We are not arguing that chefs and cleaners don’t contribute to service but we agreed to certain terms.” These sly amendments relate to the “fire and rehire” policies that are currently being resisted by workers in many different sectors, with the success of the #NoGo Bus driver strikes in Manchester an important recent victory.

This cynical move is aimed at breeding animosity between waiting staff and kitchen staff – keeping back and front-of-house staff divided and suspicious of each other. Employers purposefully generate and maintain such resentments to divide workers and therefore make them easier to exploit. Socialist Alternative fights for the cutting across of all divisions amongst the working class. When workers are united in struggle, we can win huge victories.

Workers were barely consulted about the changes to their contracts and tips, informed only 10 days before Pizza Express restaurants reopened. This allowed them little time to question and resist the amendments or to find work elsewhere.

Another shady aspect is that Pizza Express staff who manage the tips, or “tronc”, are not chosen by other workers, nor are there clear mechanisms by which they can be held accountable by other members of staff. Moreover, staff had no access to the minutes of meetings determining new proposals for tip distribution. Why are the head office unable to share this information? Witnessing this unethical opacity can have a big impact. We as workers, in our millions, must not tolerate these policies. Within the failed system of “trickle-down economics”, all that flows down is exploitation.

Where are the unions amidst all of this chaos?

Unite the Union has spent six years calling on the government to deliver on its 2019 Queen’s Speech commitment and bring in its promised Fair Tips legislation.” Over the last few years we have seen how the Tory government has no intention of delivering on this promise. Unite and all other trade unions must help organise their members and support them to resist and where necessary strike to demand an end to these abuses.

Unite, and all other other unions, must focus on building a campaign at  the grassroots, based on the workers who joined them. 

After decades of Tory anti-Trade Union laws, union membership in sectors such as hospitality has been on the decrease. Such legislation has given some unions an excuse to be more timid. Trade union leaderships need to work harder at mobilising the power and strength of the workers who chose them as representatives. Through struggle, workers gain confidence and camaraderie with their fellow workers. When the working class is united, real change can begin.

Socialist Alternative organises to help build fighting unions with leaderships who are willing to struggle to the end. We need working-class fighters to lead the unions, willing to openly resist the capitalist class.

If workers did not share potentially huge collective power – the hidden seeds of revolution – then why would the ruling class do everything in their power to keep us divided and depressed? Workers have incredible potential power when we come together in a united cause.

Socialist Alternative fight for:

  • £15 an hour minimum wage for all
  • 100% of tips to go to hospitality workers themselves
  • For decent pay rises to reflect the real cost of living for all staff (back and front of house), funded directly by the company and not based on tips
  • Fully paid sick leave, pensions and holiday pay for all
  • The scrapping of anti-trade union laws that limit workers rights, to enable all workers to organise and resist
  • Fully democratic election of all trade union officials on an average wage
  • The election of true working-class fighters as trade union reps, unafraid to go on the offensive against the elites