Brexit uncertainty has not stood in the way of a growing hospitality sector. However, the industry’s benefit to the economy should be judged by wages and employment standards.
The tourism and hospitality sector is walking a Brexit tightrope. A weak pound has led to the UK welcoming nearly 40 million foreign visitors last year, spending more than £24.5 billion. The latest figures from the ONS have seen the hospitality industry turnover break the £100 billion ceiling for the first time.
However, the good news is tapered by Brexit warnings. Tourism Minister Michael Ellis cautions that the industry faces the most acute workforce challenge of any sector, with staff surveys finding that 330,000 employees working in catering, bars, hotels and restaurants are considering their future in the UK post-Brexit.
A hostile environment in the aftermath of the referendum has left one in two hospitality workers feeling that the UK is a less welcoming place to live and work in.
Brexit is not the only challenge for an industry that has a reputation for low pay, long hours and the exploitation of workers.
Dispatches investigation, Undercover in Premier Inn, showed a glimpse into the world of contract cleaning at the UK’s biggest hotel chain. Working without pay, going without breaks and unreasonable targets, create a pressurised environment that leads to compromised standards. Low wages, alongside unpaid hours and few rights, can leave staff working below the National Living Wage.
The documentary came just a few months after Whitbread, the owner of Premier Inn, quit the Ethical Trading Initiative, a partnership of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes worker’s rights, challenges exploitation and discrimination, and seeks to improve working conditions. The decision to withdraw from the initiative was a response to the trade union, Unite, questioning employment practices and efforts to gain access to workers.
A ruthless focus on driving down costs to the detriment of workers undermines the UK economy, compromising a person’s health, family and finances. Those workplaces are untenable, and the sector are leaving themselves open to industrial injuries and health compensation claims, when figures show that 8 out of 10 room attendants suffer musculoskeletal problems.
For an industry already plagued by low wages and poor employment practices, we must be watchful that Brexit does not open the door to a new race to the bottom with a right-wing Tory government shredding basic employment rights.
A good economy is not determined by shareholder profits, rising executive pay, or higher GDP figures founded on exploitative employment,
low wages and insecure work.
The importance of increasing the UK hospitality sector cannot be judged on increasing turnover, but on how the profits generated improve the health and wellbeing of their employee base and wider society.Labour, together with the trade union movement, is setting the agenda on employment rights.
The Tories fell in line behind Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to stop rogue employers taking a cut of employee’s tips, meaning staff will keep 100 per cent of their tips.
Whilst Tories on the extreme right believe in watering down the minimum wage, and we have a Prime Minister who opposed its introduction, it is Labour who is committed to a real Living Wage of £10 per hour. A Labour Living Wage would make nearly nine million workers at least £1,300 better off per year – a pay increase for the 75 per cent of hospitality workers paid under £10 per hour. A real living wage and improving living standards has been shown to benefit business, reducing staff turnover by two thirds and absenteeism by a quarter.
Labour will tackle the casualisation of work, banning zero-hour contracts, ending insecurity with guaranteed minimum hours, and allowing workers to pay their bills and plan their lives.
I fully endorse Unite’s Fair Hospitality Charter calling for new rights on breaks, employee late night travel safety, and the right to be consulted on rota changes and trade union access.
I believe the economy is a partnership between the consumers, business and workers, not a conflict between two opposing sides. However, when there is a breakdown in this partnership, Government should stand up to power, and the current power imbalance in the sector, skewed against workers, is a sign of an economic failure.
The hospitality and tourism sectors are vital to the UK economy’s future health after Brexit, but this cannot mean turning a blind eye to exploitative practices or facilitating rapidly increased profits at the expense of worker’s rights.