Hospitality workers ‘crying out for protection’ from wide abuses

High numbers of workers report verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment

A total of 76 per cent, when asked who the perpetrator was, said it was ‘someone in a position of power – the chef, the owner, the manager’.  Photograph: iStock

A total of 76 per cent, when asked who the perpetrator was, said it was ‘someone in a position of power – the chef, the owner, the manager’. Photograph: iStock

 

A “culture of ill-treatment within the hospitality sector” includes widespread sexual harassment, bullying and verbal abuse, an Oireachtas Committee heard on Thursday.

Dr Deirdre Curran, lecturer at the department of business and economics at NUI Galway, said workers in the sector were “crying out for protection” adding in her 30 years as a researcher she had never “been kept awake at night” as she is conducting this work.

She detailed her findings from ongoing research into hospitality workers’ conditions at the Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It is examining legislation, the Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill 2019, which aims to prevent workers’ tips being used to make up their wages.

Dr Curran has so far surveyed 257 hospitality workers across the State.

“Seventy-six per cent of respondents experienced verbal abuse sometimes or often; 64 per cent experienced psychological abuse sometimes or often, and 15 per cent experienced physical abuse sometimes or often,” she said.

A total of 76 per cent, when asked who the perpetrator was, said it was “someone in a position of power – the chef, the owner, the manager”.

Asked who they reported abuse to, the “overwhelming answer was ‘Nobody’”.

Among those who did report, when asked if anything was done, just 15 per cent said something was.

“Sexual harassment is very prevalent – 55 per cent of survey respondents had witnessed or experienced harassment,” she said, adding that those at greatest risk were younger foreign nationals.

“Sixty-three per cent witnessed or experienced bullying. I could go on,” she said. “Forty-eight per cent said they had no access to a voice in the workplace. They are clearly crying out for a voice. These people are crying out for protection.”

Tips withheld

Some 23 per cent had had tips withheld by restaurant owners in full or in part, and 47 per cent said while there was “some system for distributing tips . . . it either wasn’t clear what the system was or it was not considered to be fair”.

“There is a massive issue about tips being stolen from employees,” she said.

Answers as to why tips were withheld included: to pay for the staff party, to top up the till when it was short, to pay for newspapers, to pay when a customer left without paying and to pay for breakages.

Dr Donal de Buitléir, chair of the Low Pay Commission, who also addressed the committee, said he would be “really keen to pursue” Dr Curran’s findings.

Earlier the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) and the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) argued that service charges in restaurants belonged to business owners and were distinct from tips and gratuities.

“As such service charges can be applied to meet all business costs, including salaries,” said Tim Fenn, chief executive of the IHF.

The service charge was part of the contractual payment between the customer and the business. It could “decide what they want to do with the money that’s in that contract”.

“If you decide to leave a tip on the table or add it to your card payment that . . . belongs to the employee and they should receive that.”

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the RAI said his association was “at one” with the IHF.

“There is a contractual agreement between the customer and the business and that’s it.”

Dr de Buitléir said: “The service charge should be passed on to workers . . . clearly it follows if employers are retaining some element of the service charge, that does increase their profits.”