Do the trade unions have a role to play in the pub industry? Unite's national officer for the food and drink sector Jennie Formby argues the case
Morning Advertiser editor The PMA Team was critical of the GMB in his recent article (Beware the GMB's dodgy promises, 24 August) but it would be wrong to conclude that there is no place for trade unions in the industry. While Unite has some tenants in membership, the bread and butter of our work in the industry, first in the National Association of Licensed House Managers (NALHM) and subsequently as Licensees Unite, has always been to represent the many thousands of hard-working managers and bar workers employed in UK pubs.
We do, of course, fully recognise the vital work being done to try to preserve this great industry.
We also value, and would like to expand, the joint work we do with other partners. But we can't ignore the increasing pressures on managers and staff.
Managers, in particular, are being pushed more and more to work longer hours, deliver greater profits and comply with onerous and often contradictory regulations.
And all this for ever-diminishing rewards despite often working in successful pubs as pubcos continue to move profitable sites into the managed sector so they can squeeze as much cash out of them as they can.
Blame the landlord
The current culture of "blame the landlord", coupled with low-cost drinks promotions and happy hours, sometimes puts our members in an almost impossible position. On the one hand they're pushed by their employer to sell as much cheap booze as they can, but at the same time they have the threat of losing their licence if they unwittingly sell to anyone underage or if their customers become troublesome. Unite recently highlighted the use of undercover police officers in pubs to pounce on licensees for "irresponsibility." If only they were there as quickly when we really need them.
Licensees Unite is proud of the work we do with pubwatch schemes, but there needs to be greater co-ordination of the various agencies and a recognition that well-supported licensees in well-managed pubs are the key to ensuring responsible drinking and trouble-free premises.
But employers too are not doing enough to support their workers, and health and safety is a key area that must improve.
Too many of our members are still being injured at work, many of them suffering injuries that would have been preventable had adequate measures been in place.
We need more support for workers who are assaulted and a genuine willingness to work with the union to develop strategies and procedures that protect and safeguard employees.
Pay is another key area that must be addressed, with average pay for managers having fallen dramatically over recent years and many workers having a pay freeze.
Licensees Unite has just successfully negotiated a 2.25% pay increase in the Joseph Holt Brewery — a modest increase but a good achievement in today's difficult climate.
But too many companies resist union recognition and our organisers are working hard consolidating membership so that we can move forward and increase the scope of our collective bargaining.
I recently met members working for a major regional who work themselves to the bone to exceed targets for increasing business, but the bonuses they can receive are a tiny fraction of the additional profits they are returning — where's the fairness or the incentive in that?
Our Pub Manifesto published last year highlighted the excessive hours culture, with 60 to 70-hour weeks commonplace among managers — so hundreds of hours unpaid each year. Remember that these are employees on a salary that isn't a king's ransom, often making huge profits for the pubcos. The 48-hour working week must be addressed as a matter of urgency and fairness. Unite represents far too many managers forced to leave through ill health or suffering from stress as a result of working too hard for too long. This isn't good for them and it certainly isn't good for the industry.
Pub managers and bar workers need strong trade unions to represent them on these and many other issues — disciplinary hearings,
grievances, claiming compensation for accidents or assaults at work, representation with agencies, the list goes on.
We also clearly have a role in lobbying the Government and campaigning on other key issues that have an impact.
The GMB is to be congratulated for its contribution in highlighting the massive issues facing the industry and, although it's clearly a challenge to lead industrial action by self-employed tenants, we wish it every success.
But there's other important work to be done and Licensees Unite will continue to campaign and work for all licensees, tenants and managers, and urge all workers in the industry to join us in getting organised.