Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin told staff in a video at the start of lockdown that there could be delays in wage payments while the government’s furlough scheme was set up, and suggested they may want to get a job at a supermarket.
As a result, unions, staff, MPs and the public all hit out at the chain and a movement began calling for a total boycott of all JD Wetherspoon pubs.
This Saturday marks the first time the #BoycottWetherspoons movement has a chance to flex its might in the real world and there’s every indication it still has momentum – campaigners last week launched the #NeverSpoons hashtag.
One group against a boycott, however, are those with more to lose than anyone – the Wetherspoon’s staff, and their union.
Lee*, a member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), told HuffPost UK: “I love the energy behind [the public’s protest] and the fact they’re willing to help us.
“But a boycott is going to negatively affect the staff long before it affects the people at the top. Each pub gets a certain amount of hours we can use to maximise our profit. Less sales means we get less hours.
“I can’t tell the public where they should and shouldn’t spend their money but I just hope they understand the effect it’s going to have. Whether they like Tim Martin or not, a boycott isn’t going to affect him straight away.”
Instead of not spending their money at a Spoons, unionised staff at the pub chain are instead asking the public to make their voices heard in ways that can still make an impact on the millionaire owner while not negatively affecting its thousands of staff.
“We’re asking to support us in other ways such as signing our petition which is demanding a safer work environment for us to go back to, and encouraging staff to join our campaign and union,” says Lee.
They are demanding a number of changes that go far beyond just being paid properly and on time.
Lee said the potential boycott couldn’t come at a worse time for Wetherspoon’s staff who have been on furlough and receiving only 80% of their regular wages.
“I personally would lose a lot more hours and it would put a stress on my pub as a whole,” she said.
“I’m already struggling with my rent and paying back my debts. So if I was to start earning even less then I would have to default on my debt.”
Asked if she had a personal message for Martin, Lee said: “It should always be staff before profits.”
A previous version of this article wrongly stated that Tim Martin told his staff that they would not be paid and that they should “go work at Tesco”. It is accepted that Martin said if employees were offered a job in a supermarket, he would understand if they wanted to take it. He also did not tell staff that they would not be paid. It is accepted Wetherspoon employees were paid in the usual way for work done up to March 22/23. Furlough payments began on April 3 and continued thereafter.