Zero Hours and Coronavirus Mutual Aid
“Workers will get bankrupt before they get sick”: Hospitality workers face uncertain future
City streets across the UK are becoming increasingly empty, giving the impression of scenes in post-apocalyptic, dystopian movies. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the UK government has imposed capacity limits on public gatherings, while other countries around the world have banned them altogether.
Consumer-facing companies such as the hospitality and retail industries are some of those most heavily affected by the pandemic. However, rather than officially shutting down all hospitality businesses- which would enable them to claim insurance and would be accompanied with other measures for the relaxation of the ensuing economic pressures on bosses and employees- the Prime Minister advised the public to not attend any bars, clubs, and venues. This instruction creates conditions that directly threaten workers with imminent, long-term unemployment and economic hardship.
Darrell, manager at The Rum Shak in Pollokshows Road, said:
“In this current situation, it seems that hospitality workers are an after thought. Most staff are hired on zero-hours contracts. If you don’t work you don’t get an income. The government has told people to not go to bars and night clubs. But there are no safety measures for the staff or businesses who’s livelihood depends on a steady flow of customers, which have been warned not to venture out. Leading to business being closed with not benefits for its staff. The government hasn’t frozen rent or mortgages so essentially we are not working and have massive outgoings. The benefits from Statutory sick pay (SSP) is simply not enough to cover rent and basic necessities for self isolation. There’s not much being said and very little less being done. We are non the less wiser in how to deal with this situation’’.
Laura, owner of the Southside café Potbelly told Bella Caledonia that she will need to close down very soon but despite the risk, the Government leaves her no other choice.
Libby, Duty Manager of Block+, in Glasgow’s city centre said:
‘’It’s fucked up. We are very lucky though, because Block+ is handling it with the best way they can without any interest in their mind. If we can’t get insurance, which can pay our fees, we can’t close. Boris Johnson’s announcement forces us to close voluntarily. But we can’t close. We are an independent business, we’ve been told by our owner to try to keep as much staff as possible, and as for the people who don’t want to come, they don’t have to. It is not his responsibility to look after our wellbeing. It’s the government’s. Why paying a tax for a government that doesn’t look after our wellbeing? Until, they order us to close, we can’t close. I am not particularly worried about myself for now, as long as I don’t carry it [COVID-19], otherwise I would need to act responsibly to not pass it to anyone else.’’
Discussions are ongoing between businesses and insurance companies, internal revenue agents and landlords, but the picture is not yet very clear. Trade Unions among other campaigns and organisations are seriously concerned. The biggest part of UK’s workforce is getting crashed down: part-time workers, in casual positions, on contract or zero-hours contract could be forced to keep going to work out of fear for their fincancial situation. The people described by Boris Johnson as ‘low-skilled’ are one of the groups that will be the hardest hit from the pandemic; frequently, they are also the most indispensable for the smooth functioning of society.
Melissa, a hospitality worker said:
‘’As of yesterday I have lost 29hrs of work just this week, with more unpredictable waves coming, Staff will work if they can, though it does not cover the cost of falling trade for business in this industry, I’m not sure how much facts you may have been following, as a hospo worker we see and hear what is happening sooner than most, yesterday one particular bar/restaurant let go 15 members of staff, halved the hours of the full timers. And 3 other venues have had to close [..] Jobs are being lost left right and centre. Naturally not the most important value whilst people are dying, but show some support, please sign this petition.’’
An official of the Clydeside IWW, who wanted to remain anonymous (speaking in a personal capacity), said:
“Precarious workers have never seemed quite so precarious as right now. We consider ourselves lucky if we can keep risking exposure by coming into work. The unlucky one’s have had their hours cut – or have been let go. All workers deserve a guaranteed income. Decent sick pay. No more zero hours contracts. And recognition that we kept working, we kept the economy running – while the bosses went home.”
Another IWW officer put it more bluntly: “Precarious workers will face bankruptcy before they get sick”.
Grassroot autonomous organising is happening in our neighbourhood.
People are trying to open escape routes of solidarity by building supportive online networks and organising campaign groups for food distribution. One of the most important campaigns at the moment is the ‘Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK’, which encourages and supports local community organising across the UK for the most vulnerable people. Autonomous mutual-aid groups operate in many areas in Scotland, including Glasgow . For more info, for anyone who wishes to help out, click on here.
Alejandro Fernandez, active with Glasgow Mutual Aid, believes that local government should work together with mutual-aid groups like ours, along with health professionals so that they harness people’s capacity to help each other out.
Glasgow No Evictions Campaign organised a 2-day food distribution action in coordination with the Potbelly café, which after deciding to lock up, donated all of their food. There is also the No Evictions Network which offers information about COVID-19 in different languages, and assists with providing necessities.
The tenants’ union Living Rent stated publicly: “We are building strong community bases. Our organisers are currently creating Whatsapp groups to coordinate community responses to the underlying social crisis. This means stopping evictions, ensuring crucial repairs, and linking up with mutual aid groups. You can sign up to join these groups here.”
While governments and global elites of the world see the pandemic as an opportunity to bail out industries while neglecting the public good, there is hope that the current crisis highlights that we depend on each other to exists. Although Covid-19 is not political the lack of proper infrastructure to manage it- including lack of workers’ rights- is a social issue. Currently, precarious workers, especially those in the hospitality industry, are some of the hardest hit.