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Hospitality workers subjected to ‘systemic exploitation and abuse,’ study finds

Underpayment, wage theft, dangerous working conditions and poor sick pay are ‘widespread,’ Focus on Labour Exploitation report reveals

HOSPITALITY workers are suffering “systemic labour exploitation and abuse,” a damning report on the industry revealed yesterday.

Underpayment, wage theft, dangerous working conditions and poor sick pay are “widespread,” across hospitality, with workers saying that the sector is “beyond repair,” researchers found.

Over a third of the hospitality workers surveyed said that they were required to work in dangerous or unsafe conditions, according to the report by Focus on Labour Exploitation (Flex).

One respondent, a Spanish national working as a kitchen assistant, said: “I have suffered chemical abrasion on the hands, inhalation of toxic fumes such as phosphoric acid, falls, bruises and injuries due to lack of safety materials, weeks of working six days and 13 uninterrupted hours due to ‘work circumstances.’

“This period has been, without any doubt, the worst work and physical experience of my entire life.”

The survey of 168 predominantly migrant workers also found that 32 per cent of participants earned below the minimum wage for their age group, based on self-reported hourly wages.  

Shockingly, almost two-thirds of respondents said that they had been subjected to abusive behaviour linked to their race, ethnicity and nationality, researchers said, while 37 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. 

Flex said that these issues were worse for people with insecure employment status or on outsourced contracts and young workers. 

The research, carried out between April 2019 and July last year, also found that workers were burdened with additional problems as a result of the pandemic, including losing their jobs rather than being furloughed. 

Flex, which campaigns for an end to labour exploitation, said that many of those surveyed had described the hospitality sector as “broken beyond repair,” with “too many problems to fix.”  

The group has called for “concrete, meaningful steps” to improve the sector, including effective enforcement of labour standards. 

Trade unions representing hospitality workers said that they recognised many of the issues highlighted in the report and demanded action to tackle the sector’s long-standing problems. 

Unite national officer Dave Turnbull said: “Unfortunately, the catalogue of abuses outlined in this report are similar to the ones our members working in the sector have experienced for many years from exploitative bosses.
 
“There is a clear case for the legislation to be strengthened to stamp out these poor employment practices across the hospitality sector.”

GMB national secretary Andy Prendergast appealed to the government to sit down with unions to not only tackle bad treatment of workers but to “deal with the long-term underlying problems.” 

“We need investment in skills and training as well as improvements to pay and conditions if we are to get people to see hospitality work not simply as a short-term option but as a long-term career choice.”

BFAWU president Ian Hodson said that there needed to be a “huge change” in the treatment of such workers.

“We have to recognise this is a highly profitable sector but offers little reward, meaning most are having to claim in-work benefits.

“There needs to be an understanding that low pay and job insecurity doesn’t build better, it destroys our society, it impacts mental health, which is becoming a huge issue for too many.”

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