Michel Roux Jr should be applauded for taking a big bite of humble pie as he apologised for paying staff at Le Gavroche, his Michelin-starred restaurant, below the national minimum wage, but he is wrong to say that the industry should be left to sort out the tipping and service charge scams on its own.
The celebrity chef, who has admitted to treating the 12.5 per cent service charge automatically added to customer bills as a revenue stream, was interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News on Monday.
After nearly a decade of campaigning for fair tips in the hospitality industry, I have heard enough horror stories to know that there will be more abuses while the government sits on its hands and continues to let the industry police itself voluntarily.
The industry has already failed to get it right. The 2009 code of best practice, introduced to bring fairness and transparency to tipping policies, has been trampled on and ignored. In the eight years since it was introduced we’ve seen an explosion in rip-off tip scams.
Anyone would think the government had cosied up to the British Hospitality Association (BHA). A private sector forum for some of the biggest businesses in UK hospitality, it has done nothing to deal with the low pay, insecure working and exploitative culture that are systemic in the industry.
Over a year ago, Sajid Javid, then the business secretary vowed to take action. The huge public backlash sparked by Unite’s campaign to expose Pizza Express and its use of an admin fee on tips back in 2015 left him with little option.
Yet,six months after the consultation into tipping and service charge abuses closed in June 2016, a visit to the government’s website states only that it is “analysing your feedback”. How many more rogue bosses will get way with scamming low paid workers out of their fair share, before this government acts?
The roll call of shame will keep growing; there will be more like Fortnum and Mason, Harrods and Le Gavroches who have given workers a poor deal while ministers sit on their hands.
The problem in the hospitality industry is twofold; firstly tips paid on a card and service charges automatically added to diners’ bills are the legal property of the employer. It is this legal loophole that allows them to treat non-cash tips and services charge income as restaurant revenue without any legal obligation to pass them on to staff.
Secondly, the “tronc” schemes used by some restaurants to electronically pool and then distribute tips and services charges to staff lack transparency and are often run by management or outside consultants without any input from staff. Customers are unaware that the service charge they have just paid is often not given to staff, but is pocketed by the company to do what they like with.
Diners are not happy that the tip they left on a credit card, or the service charge they have just paid, is not making its way back into the pay packets of low wage workers but is ending up boosting the coffers of profitable companies.
Waiters and kitchen staff are among Britain’s worst paid workers, most are paid £7.20 an hour, the new legal minimum wage for under-25s, or in the case of the chefs at Le Gavroche not even that, until Roux’s mea culpa.
Greg Clark, the present business secretary, needs to step in now and get a grip of the crisis. The code of practice must be beefed up and put on a statutory footing, because until there are clear and mandatory rules giving staff 100 per cent ownership rights over tips with control and a say over how tips and service charges are shared out, low paid workers will continue to be ripped off.
Unite is taking positive steps to change the face of the British hospitality industry for workers. We are proud to be working with the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) in the development of a set of guiding principles to help ensure fairness and greater transparency around tipping and the operation of “tronc” schemes.
We are determined that bad bosses will not give a bad name to those in the industry who are adopting fairer and more transparent tipping policies.
Dave Turnbull is a regional officer for Unite.