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Working for a fairer future

Hospitality workers need a better deal, says Alison Johnstone.

Alison Johnstone MSP
Alison Johnstone MSP

I think it’s fair to say that Scotland has changed dramatically in the last seven months.  

Faced with a pandemic that few of us ever imagined we would live through our lives have been turned upside down. 

We’ve been locked down. Businesses have been closed, reopened, and closed again. Schools and nurseries were shut for months on end. Our public services have been transformed. And we’ve not been able to spend time with friends and family. 

Yet, during all of this key workers have gone the extra mile to ensure we can all get by. 

So, to all those shelf stackers, carers, nurses, doctors, delivery drivers, refuse collectors (and so many more) thank you so much. Day in and day you went to work to keep the rest of us safe, and you continue to do so. 

Key workers here in Edinburgh and across the country have been and are once again keeping things going and saving lives. 

But of course, saying thank you is not enough. Just as clapping was not enough. 

When the pandemic struck it was key workers who stepped up, yet many continue to face low pay, zero-hours contracts and precarious working conditions. Front line health workers often work exhausting 12-hours shifts. 

Those who looked after us when we needed it deserve a better deal. 

The latest restrictions imposed across the central belt have hit those working in hospitality particularly hard. 

Bars, pubs and restaurants have been forced to close, with some business support from the Scottish Government but a pale shadow of the previous furlough scheme promised in the weeks ahead by the UK Government. 

Tory ministers expect those who are put on the new job support scheme to survive on two thirds of their salary. There is of course no suggestion that they would be allowed to pay two thirds of bills. 

And in many instances employers will simply have let staff go, with little prospect of finding alternative employment in the current climate. Meanwhile workers in the arts, many of whom already fell through the gaps in support, are being told they are not viable and must retrain. 

Insecure employment is nothing new for those working in hospitality, but the pandemic has shone a light on the need to do better by these workers, indeed all workers. 

What’s become clearer the longer the pandemic has gone on is that regardless of what importance governments claim to place on workers, without trade union organisation there is little chance of that gratitude being turned into improvements in terms and conditions. 

Unite Hospitality has been particularly successful in highlighting the unscrupulous practices of some of the biggest employers in the sector, representing workers in an area with traditionally little trade union representation. 

 It’s time that insecure work, zero hours contracts and poverty pay was consigned to the history books. We need to start placing a proper value on the work that must carry on, whatever challenges the world throws at us.