Half of hospitality staff say Covid guidelines not followed

Unite union members also report low pay, poor working practices and insecure contracts

Covid safety: only some restaurants follow the guidelines properly. File photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty

More than half of hospitality staff say Covid guidelines were not followed in their workplaces during lockdown, according to a new survey.

They also reported low pay, insecure contracts, poor working practices, bullying and discrimination, according to the union Unite, which carried out the research in June.

  • Two-thirds of those surveyed said they lost money – ranging from less than €50 to more than €100 a week – during the pandemic.
  • Almost one in six said they didn't lose any income, as they were on low wages without guaranteed working hours.
  • Seven in 10 saw no prospect of staying in hospitality long-term.
  • Six in 10 had received the pandemic unemployment payment.
  • One in 10 had support from the wage subsidy scheme support.
  • Just under one in six continued working, as their workplaces remained open.
  • Just over 30 per cent of people who responded to the survey said that their wages were reduced when they returned to work after lockdown.

When businesses reopened in 2020, none of a list of safety resources had an implementation rate of more than 51 per cent, according to those surveyed.

  • 51 per cent reported induction safety training.
  • 48 per cent had pre-return to work forms.
  • 22 per cent reported having chosen a worker representative to communicate with management, in line with the Government's Covid-19 return-to-work safely protocol, which requires workplaces to appoint lead worker representatives to help prevent coronavirus spreading at work.
  • 45 per cent of respondents had easy access to hygiene facilities.
  • 42 per cent had a constant supply of masks/sanitiser.
  • 46 per cent said social-distancing rules were implemented.
  • 17 per cent said they had none of these resources.

Unite also asked about communication and work-related updates from employers during the pandemic.

  • 30 per cent rated it as very bad.
  • 27 per cent said it was above average.

Survey respondents reported high levels of low pay, bullying and discrimination generally in the sector.

  • 56 per cent said they earned less than €12.30 an hour, the living wage.
  • 70 per cent cited a lack of breaks.
  • 75 per cent said they did not receive premium Sunday payments.
  • 50 per cent reported not getting their tips.
  • 72 per cent said their workplace was deliberately understaffed, so workers were overloaded.
  • 70 per cent said they experienced bullying, with up to 55 per cent not reporting incidents for fear of repercussions or disbelieving that anything would change.

Unite's conducted the survey, reported as Hidden Truths: The Reality of Work in Ireland's Hospitality and Tourism Sector, with 291 people from 20 locations in the Republic of Ireland over four weeks in June 2021. The questions were circulated to union members on social media and via leaflets in English and Portuguese. (Significant numbers of Brazilians work in the sector.) Most were hotel, bar and restaurant workers – the remainder worked in cafes, tourist attractions, entertainment venues and other catering outlets – aged 30 to 49; 55 per cent of respondents said they were male; 42 said they were female.

"Although this research is based on a limited sample, it exposes patterns in the industry that should not be ignored by unions or by legislators," says Unite, which recommends reading the survey in tandem with recently published research on working conditions in the hospitality sector (PDF) by Dr Deirdre Curran of NUI Galway. Both reveal "some stark realities about the extent of abuse and exploitation in the sector", according to Unite.

Unite’s tourism and hospitality co-ordinator, Julia Marciniak, who conducted the survey, said it helps provide “a solid evidence base for what hospitality workers have always known: the sector is dominated by low pay, insecure contracts and poor working practices, bullying and discrimination. It is clear we need to reboot the sector to ensure it provides good jobs. As indoor hospitality reopens, it is particularly worrying that over half of those who responded to Unite’s survey reported a lack of adherence to Covid safety guidelines, with nearly 55 per cent lacking easy access to hygiene facilities. The pandemic has shown us that if workers are not safe, no one is safe.”