Next month, staff from two JD Wetherspoon pubs in my constituency, the Bright Helm and the Post and Telegraph, will go on strike for the first time in the company’s history.
They’ll be joined by fellow Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) members from McDonald’s and TGI Fridays in an action of unprecedented scale for a workforce that traditionally hasn’t been organised.
The move is designed to show that the thousands of people underpinning the hospitality sector, who are so often undervalued and underpaid, will no longer put up with poor working conditions.
The people who serve your fast food lunch or your after-work drinks deserve dignity – and if big companies don’t start paying them enough for a decent standard of living, they have the power to close these businesses. But no one goes on strike lightly.
I met with Wetherspoons staff in Brighton two weeks ago. The high cost of living here means they struggle to make ends meet, with some I spoke to falling into debt, sofa-surfing, and suffering the effect of stress and exhaustion on their health. Some bar workers have had to live in hostels, despite working incredibly long hours.
In stark contrast, in the six months up to the end of January this year, JD Wetherspoon posted a pre-tax profit of £62 million – a 20.6 per cent jump when compared to the same period the previous year.
There’s no denying the company’s success: they’re a feature on many of our high streets, and have managed to prove there’s a huge market for pubs that remain resolutely unpretentious and, very importantly, affordable.
But with staff now speaking out about their experiences of being given shifts at unreasonably short notice, not being left with enough gaps between shifts, having hours cut without explanation and not being paid a genuine living wage, it’s time we all listened to the people behind the bar.
Big companies are utterly dependent on their staff to generate their profits, and it’s only right that they pay them accordingly.
But with people in a huge range of industries struggling with long hours and low pay, we need to rethink what our whole economy is for. Continuing down a path where profit is king is unsustainable for our society, our health and our planet.
An economy designed to improve everyone’s lives and ensure no one goes without basic essentials – from food and heating to time off to pursue passions – is perfectly achievable if we recognise that the current low unemployment rate masks the fact that many of these jobs are unreliable and underpaid.
Instead we need a government ready to make the minimum wage a real living wage, end zero-hours contracts and introduce strict pay ratios to cut inequality between chief executives and the lowest-paid workers.
As more and more people demand fair pay, the Government and big corporations are going to have to take notice.
I stand alongside everyone campaigning for better pay and conditions – they are paving the way for a fairer society.