Wednesday 11 December 2019

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Hospitality workers need to be protected from abuse

Wednesday, 18th September, 2019 4:10pm

To work in hospitality can be a tough gig. While there are good employers and bad employers, far too often people can be poorly paid, their rights not adequately respected, and face harassment or abusive behaviour.

That is what I found in a survey of over 100 hospitality workers in Cork I conducted over the summer.

As might be expected, most workers are younger workers, with three in every four of those who responded were under the age of 34, with half of those falling into the 18-24 age bracket.

Very often the positions were not particularly secure or long term. Just over half of 100 or so who replied were employed on a full-time/permanent basis, with 30 per cent of those being part-time, with the rest being seasonal/casual workers.

I will outline what these workers have experienced in terms of working conditions, but I first wish to address what I felt was the most starling statistic of all.

I had a certain awareness, albeit anecdotal, that hospitality workers were subject to verbal abuse more regularly than those other customer service roles, but what I discovered was concerning and indicative of the fact that employers must do more to protect their workers.

One in every three of the respondents to the survey stated that they had been subjected to sexual harassment while in the workplace, while one in every ten had been subjected to sexual abuse in the workplace.

This is deeply shocking, is wholly unacceptable in any walk of life and cannot be allowed to continue.

While I accept that employers may not be able to pre-empt all potential incidents of this kind, the response taken to such abuse should be swift, decisive and unambiguous that such behaviour is not tolerated.

It would not be acceptable in any other place of work, and nor should it be in the hospitality sector.

I know some employers who do indeed take a firm line, but it is very clear that others do not and must follow suit.

While much of this abuse, can come experienced from drunken or hostile customers, the survey results showed that it was not uncommon for abuse to come from another worker, with some cases stating that it came directly from the manager/owner of the premises.

I found that to be both shocking and concerning.

What I also found concerning was that 73 per cent of hospitality workers who received abuse did not report it for fear of repercussion, or they felt that that reporting it would not make a difference.

This is indicative of an improper complaints procedure in sector as a whole and is something that those with responsibility must address.

Regarding the issue of workers’ rights more generally – 40 per cent of those who responded to the survey did not have written terms of employment, or a contract; and one in every five were not even receiving a payslip.

Underpayment is a common issue as well, with 25 per cent being underpaid, 15 per cent of those, quite often.

52 per cent of respondents had some experience of their tips being withheld or underpaid, an issue Sinn Féin is seeking to tackle with legislation.

We feel the least people in this sector deserve is to keep their tips.

It is, as well as a precarious sector, a sector which is largely unorganised - 84 per cent of people said they were not a member of a trade union. This is a reality that cannot be decoupled from some of the workers’ rights issues experienced by those working within the hospitality sector.

Trade unions add to social cohesion. A society where workers are protected through legislation and collective organisation is one where decent levels of care and community thrive and survive and I would take this opportunity to encourage hospitality workers who are not members of a trade union to join if you haven’t already done so.

All workers are deserving of an environment where they receive common decency on both an employment level, and it their day-to-day interactions.

It is clear that many people who work in hospitality do not feel they get that, and many feel they are underpaid and undervalued.

That means employers adopting a zero-tolerance attitude where any abuse and harassment takes place, and it involves the Government putting in place strong legislation to safeguard their rights, protecting the wages tips, and ensuring minimum conditions.

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