Monday, April 21, 2008

Unsung scroungers

Ordinary tales of bosses nicking their staff's tips.

Last weekend there was one political story that mattered, and it had nothing to do with hollow proto-political coverage preoccupied with Gordon Brown's suits, Labour's alleged rebellions (but over what, exactly?), or MPs dating Cheeky Girls. Credit to the Mirror ("SHAME OF TIPS RIP-OFF" was Saturday's headline) for being alone in exposing one of the unseen scandals of today's Britain.

So you are a barmaid. You can't sit on your arse, you have to be on constant alert, walk up and down the dining area, wipe surfaces, pay attention to details, make sure you've got the correct order and you don't drop plates and glasses on the way. Complaining customers will happily take it out on you even though you aren't the one managing the place or shoving food in the microwave. When you started you were probably weighed down with glossy booklets about how smashing it is to be a "team member", and clichés like "cutting edge service", "customer care" and "targets". Not to mention the importance of having a permasmile stamped on your underpaid face. And, lest we forget, the constant bogeyman threat of the "mystery customer" sent over by head office.

It's hard to think of many other jobs that have to involve anti-social hours, customer care skills, dexterity, physical stamina, a clear head and huge dollops of patience all in one. The minimum wage may still be too low (currently standing at £5.52 an hour), but it was introduced precisely to avoid the obscenity of waiting staff pocketing £3 or below for all that work.

Except that a number of fat companies such as Pizza Express and Café Rouge are now rumoured to be at the forefront of crooked practices. Not only do they pay their staff below the minimum wage (as little as £3 an hour, according to trade union Unite) and then use tips to cover the difference, but they also pocket a slice of the same tips. A kind of inverted Robin Hood. In essence, they defeat the object of what a tip has been since civilisation began.

It may also have crossed your mind that it's not as if franchises like these (along with many others, just to keep it clear) weren't doing so well. In recent years they've been multiplying like rabbits. And a cynical reader may be tempted to stick the two facts together.

Unite and The Mirror have started a campaign to name and shame bosses who indulge in such practices. Shame the Sun and Daily Mail haven’t backed it. And we thought they didn’t like scroungers!

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