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RESTAURANT workers at US-based restaurant chain TGI Fridays triggered a planned “summer of disruption” by going on strike today.
Unite members at branches in Covent Garden and Milton Keynes walked out at 11am in an ongoing dispute over tips and appropriate payment of the minimum wage.
The main grievance of the waiting staff is over a new policy on tips, under which nearly half of the money given by diners to the front-of-house workers is used to top up the low wages of kitchen staff.
Employers say that this is to improve back-of-house recruitment and retention.
However, front-of-house staff, who are overwhelmingly young, female and from migrant backgrounds, say that this amounts to a £250 a month real-terms pay cut and that kitchen staff should be paid properly rather than being subsidised by their tips.
Since the workers began balloting for strike action, many more TGI Fridays employees have joined Unite.
Those at the Trafford Centre in Manchester and London’s Piccadilly are set to strike next Friday.
Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull told the Star that the strikes give a “warning” of a “summer of disruption” if management refuses to sit down with workplace representatives to find a real solution.
He said: “This isn’t about minimum wage servers not wanting to share.
“It’s about a company whose shareholders have gotten so greedy that they no longer want to pay their hardworking staff anything above the bare minimum.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and members of the powerful SEIU steelworkers’ union in the US were among those who tweeted in solidarity with the workers in the dispute.
Mr Corbyn added a link to a petition started by Lauren, who has worked at TGI Fridays for eight years.
She wrote: “Workers like me were given two days notice before we were stripped of 40 per cent of our tips. This means some of my workmates will lose £250 a month.
“We’ve put up with treatment like this for years and now me and fellow Unite members are saying enough is enough.
“We’re standing up to a rotten system built on low pay and exploitation. We won’t back down.”
At a rally at Unite headquarters, TGI Fridays workers were joined by McDonald’s staff who staged the first strike in the company’s British history earlier this year.
A worker at the rally said that, unlike most industrial action in Britain, “this strike is not a defensive one. We have nothing to lose. This is an offensive strike.”
Unite hospitality workers branch secretary Nilufer Erdem told the Star that “amazing” solidarity from the public had boosted the confidence of those going on strike for the first time.
Ms Erdem said: “It is really exciting to see two restaurants being shut down. We’ve made managers feel very, very shaky. This is a historic action.”
Another rally was held in the evening, with hundreds of young workers and students in Covent Garden taking part to help keep spirits high.
A TGI Fridays spokesman said: “Our team members are a part of our Fridays family and we care about them.
“Despite this, a small number at Milton Keynes Stadium and Covent Garden have voted to strike. We are listening to them and are collectively working to find a resolution.”
Lauren’s petition can be found at https://bit.ly/2Is41wq.
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