Calling time on wage theft

We investigate a growing problem

With brighter days finally gracing our skies, the restaurant trade is expectedly booming. While we all enjoy grabbing a bite on a sunny evening or a couple of cheeky lunchtime pints, increased custom and a higher demand on serving staff can sometimes result in customers leaving the restaurant without paying for their food. 

Despite the UK restaurant and food industry turning over more than 30 billion pounds each year, which tends to spike over the summer months, increasing reports of ‘Wage theft’, as described by Unite the union, have recently surfaced, causing outrage across social media. Multiple restaurants across England and Wales have been accused of cutting the wages of employees to cover the bill after customers have left without paying for their food, and as someone who’s worked in hospitality for the past six years, i can unfortunately confirm that dine and dashers, are hardly unheard-of.

While all restaurants accused have made it clear that this unfair conduct is not company policy, some restaurant managers are blatantly ignoring their moral and, in some cases, legal obligation to pay their employees a full wage, even if a walkout occurs.

This recent misconduct within the restaurant industry brings to light just how detrimental wage theft has become. Wage theft tends to happen more frequently amongst jobs with a high employee turnover, and to those working zero hours contracts, and unsurprisingly many people choose not to speak out against it, in fear that their employment is vulnerable.

Imagine planning a lads holiday to Magaluf, questionable nickname t-shirts and all, only to find that you’re forced to cancel after having your wages docked by £150, due to circumstances entirely out of your control. Or worse, imagine finding you couldn’t pay your rent or food bill because the earnings you earmarked to cover it are no longer coming in.

Such severe sanctions simply cannot be justified.

Just last month, it was reported that a Cardiff waitress was forced to give up £55 out of her wages after a table left without paying for their food. The waitress, who had loyally worked the company for 9 years, was ordered to pay the bill, with the justification that “walk-outs happen too often”. Losing out on the £55, meant that her earnings from the 10 hour shift she worked were docked to £45, bringing her hourly rate down to an illegal, and quite frankly embarrassing £4.50, an eye watering £3.71 below the minimum wage. While her employers commented in defence that this practice was ‘absolutely not company policy’, this response is simply not powerful enough in the face of such a detrimental issue. You only have to read our manifesto to know, that here at limber, we’re pretty passionate about fair pay.

While common, wage theft is not a unique problem to the hospitality sector, and studies have found that the total for unpaid wages suffered by British workers was around a staggering £3.1 billion in 2016, meaning that more than six million of the lowest-paid workers in the country each lost out by £470 on average. Official statistics also show that more than 360,000 workers across the UK as a whole were paid below the national minimum living wage in 2016. Three years on and we’re still fighting against this blatant abuse of trust and exploitation of labour. If the deduction pulls the hourly rate below minimum wage, which in many cases it does, it’s simply illegal.

While there is no organisation that appears to officially follow wage docking as company policy, there’s also a vast lack of measures in place to inhibit this kind of misconduct, and a clear need for a push towards achieving David Metcalfs, Director of Labour Market Enforcement, most recent strategy which is set to improve state-led enforcement of employment rights. This includes new laws and regulations, that explicitly inhibit the unfair docking of workers’ wages.

It’s time to protect workers and ensure that those in higher positions are not lining their pockets with the wages that rightfully belong to their employees, from servers to hairdressers to dog walkers, a full day’s pay is a simply your fundamental right.

Emily Attwood is a limber content creator and social media manager, also studying English Literature. Between that, you might find her writing for news site, 'The Tab', or taking on powerful thought pieces for 'Culcher Magazine'. She's an upcoming writer, ready to make waves and certainly one to watch.

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