'We’re not doctors, politicians, parents or babysitters': Hospitality staff speak out as they claim pub companies are failing to keep them safe

As restaurants and pubs end their first week in Level 0, Unite the union is backing concerns raised by staff that their safety has not been a priority for big companies in the face of trouble customers and Covid restrictions.

All hospitality staff who have provided comment for this piece have been kept anonymous along with their places of work.

Unite the Union is calling on companies to do more to protect staff in the face of a “sharp increase of verbal and physical abuse from customers” in the industry.

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When pubs and restaurants first reopened after months of lockdown, social distancing restrictions, compulsory mask wearing and table time limits added intense pressures to hospitality staff.

Female bartender pouring beer from tap at bar

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, many have spoken out on what has been a very challenging experience.

One staff member said: "A previous employee, who was female, got punched in the face last year and still no door staff have been given by the company.

“A lot of people definitely kick off because they know there is no security and they don’t want to listen to a 5ft women.

"I think the company could just employ bouncers and actually care about their employees by believing them over bad reviews from inebriated customers who have been abusing us, instead of offering apologies or items to abusive, entitled customers.

Bar staff have spoken on the pressures they are under. Stock image

"It may actually stop the public from acting like idiots if they know they aren’t going to get away with it.

"I’ll never work for a chain company again, because the big UK hospitality businesses just see staff as replaceable and not worth paying more than minimum wage, even with the heavy fines that hang over our heads and the abuse we deal with.”

Staff are liable to be personally fined for being in breach of licensing laws, including serving someone who is underage, or somebody who is too considered to be too drunk.

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Another staff member from a different pub spoke about the initial period of reopening after lockdown: "Most of the time, it felt unsafe.

"People would constantly ignore the rules: walking around without masks, hugging strangers and passing their phones to them for photos, etc.

"The whole team was struggling to embrace this new aspect of the job which was to police customers constantly.

"Morale was really low and arguments between us would happen a lot as we were under tremendous amounts of pressure at work.”

PIcture credit: John Devlin

“The company didn't seem to care about our mental health.

"There was a general check-up when we came back to work and then we got thrown in the deep end.

"I was made to work ridiculous hours for barely more than minimum wage.

"A common practice was to close and to be back early the next morning.

"Sometimes I only had six or seven hours between shifts.

"I felt no support from management when this was brought up and there was an air of "well that's just how it is, what did you expect".

Student demonstration against cuts at Strathclyde University ends in 2 arrests by Police. Brian Simpson and James Kelman. Picture Robert Perry The Scotsman 2nd June

New regulations in place added further responsibilities for staff, in addition to their usual day-to-day job.

Another person in a different establishment added: “The company needs to introduce door staff.

"They can then regulate the capacity and keep customers in check. It would save the staff having to do multiple roles on top of being everything else.

“We’re not doctors, politicians, parents or babysitters.

"We are there to make sure everyone has a good time in these current times.

"They need to look after the staff. Don’t drive them away.”

Greene King is one of the UK’s biggest pub companies, with over 100 bars in Scotland and over 3000 across the UK.

A Greene King spokesperson said: “We know how tough it is for teams working in hospitality at the moment who are at the forefront of having to deal with constantly changing government rules and managing customers’ expectations.

"Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and for the foreseeable future, supporting our teams’ welfare at work and the safety of customers through our pub safe scheme has been our top priority.

“There has been no overall reduction in the number of team members on shift and where there’s a shortage of team members due to self-isolation, we’ve temporarily closed pubs as we always want to be confident that enough of the team are available to run a pub to its usual high standard.

“We have closely followed all government guidance, rules and regulations around testing and isolating and no-one who is under a legal requirement to self-isolate should be coming to work.

"We’re troubled to hear that a few of our team members have raised concerns and we would urge them to get in touch to see if we can change things for the better.”

One member of staff from another pub added: “People have been running out their tabs a lot more than before and that makes the whole team feel pretty low. This job was difficult at best of times but it had become unbearable for a lot of us.”

Wetherspoons, another of the UK’s largest pub companies, said it provides door staff where it considers it necessary, and said managers are given body cameras, radios and panic buttons for their safety.

A spokesperson added: “We are not aware of any complaints being raised by staff to our operations managers in this regard.

"The company fully appreciates that it has been extremely difficult for all our pub employees in enforcing the Covid regulations and we thank them for all their efforts.”

Another anonymous staff member said: “I found that higher management was very flimsy with the rules and were bending them depending on the situation.

"We were always meant to have three people on shift to ensure the place would be Covid safe but when someone called in sick, they told us to open anyway, they asked a team member to come back early after contracting Covid.”

Someone also said their company had asked staff members not to discuss pay with each other, saying, “which isn't something they can enforce”.

Bryan Simpson, industrial organiser for the union Unite Hospitality, said: "Employers already have a legal duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect workers from harm but this isn't enough.

“Since the sector has opened-up post-pandemic we have seen a sharp increase in verbal and physical abuse from customers which employers no longer have any legal liability for since the removal of section 40 of the Equality Act which held employers accountable for third party harassment from customers.

“As well as lobbying Westminster for the re-introduction of Section 40 we are calling on decent employers to adopt a proactive sexual harassment policy which protects workers, particularly women, from abuse from the moment they enter the workplace.

“We are already training our members on how to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, employers should be doing the same."

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