Pub workers stage protest over lack of extra pay for Christmas working

Centre: Lewisham councillor Sylvana Kelleher, far right: Bahar Mustafa and protestors Pic: Claudia Glover

Workers from London-based pub chain Antic  staged a protest outside the Job Centre pub in Deptford last Friday calling for extra pay for working over Christmas.

Employees and members of the Union ‘Unite’ were brandishing their flags, handing out leaflets and speaking to the public about their demands outside the pub on Deptford High Street.

Having previously been denied double pay or time and a half for shifts on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, employees decided to host a peaceful protest. The founder of Antic, Anthony Thomas, has rejected the criticisms.

Job Centre sign and Unite flag Pic: Claudia Glover

This picket comes after recent hospitality strikes such as the McStrike for McDonald’s workers and the Ivy House community pub strike in Nunhead.

Antic workers now have union representation and are filing a collective grievance for extra Christmas pay, in the form of a petition with over 120 signatures. This has not yet been enough to sway the owners of Antic and so the dispute continues.

The protestors have received support from Lewisham councillor Joe Dromey, who said that he and Damian Eagan, Mayor of Lewisham, have “written to Antic to call on them to commit to the Living Wage” and that they “hope Antic will listen to their workers”.

“Antic are one of the biggest pub chains in London, and can very much afford to pay its workers,” said Bahar Mustafa, a Unite member on the picket line.

Many of the workers in South London pubs are students whose families live elsewhere. “It’s terrible that they don’t get additional pay for having to sacrifice their Christmas. They want to go home to see their families on Christmas Eve,” said Mustafa.

Matt Collins Pic: Claudia Glover

One of the picket organisers, Matt Collins, from Lewisham, and an employee at the Job Centre, said: “We’ve been doing a lot of work with members in these pubs to get this situation ironed out, through collected grievances and other tactics.”

Bad pay over Christmas is just one of a growing number of objections. “People have just hit a point where enough is enough,” continued Collins. “People are getting organised. We’re going to keep fighting Antic ‘till we can get the London Living Wage for our members.”

The different Antic pubs across east and south London.

Some union members are sceptical of Antic’s stance that wages are pegged to the pub’s profits. Elizabeth Gorman, the manager of the Job Centre pub said: “There is no evidence to suggest that, even if the pub is running efficiently, that that results in wages going up. It doesn’t even result in the pub getting fixed.”

Elizabeth Gorman Pic: Claudia Glover

Issues were also raised around training across the company. “Because the wages are so low, more often than not the staff are really young and inexperienced, the managers are young and inexperienced and there’s no particular management training. Antic give a lot of power to general managers, very little support, and if anything goes wrong, it’s their fault”

Poverty wages are rife in the hospitality industry. According to the  Living Wage Foundation,  749,000, or a fifth of jobs in London, are paid less than the real Living Wage.

The UK hourly rate of pay has increased from £8.75 to £9. The London Living Wage has risen from £10.20 to £10.55 an hour. This is a 2.8 percent rise in the UK and 3.4 percent rise in London.

Anthony Thomas, the founder and owner of Antic outlined the company’s stance on London Living Wage: “Wages are our biggest variable cost after stock. This can only really be achieved at pub level by either increasing sales, and the profit to pay for it, or becoming more efficient so that our current pay pot is spread at a higher rate across a smaller staff number.”

He added that the flexible aspect of the job negated the need to pay staff time and a half at Christmas: “We work when other people don’t, that’s the nature of our industry, It’s part of the attraction.” Asked whether staff would see extra money for increased productivity behind the bar, Thomas said: “We announced our plans three months ago to offer bonuses for increased productivity in branches. We are setting budgets, and targets for those budgets”

On training, Thomas  stressed that the company had an online system  that every employee is signed up to, with a huge amount of online workshops but that were looking into offering incentives as the engagement was low. He added: “Managers will pay more money to those who are performing well in the pub, in the form of promotions. We are looking into bringing in a bonus incentive scheme, I’m just looking at how that is going to work.”

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