BLOG: Hospitality, Covid-19 and the real Living Wage by Patrick Harvie MSP

When pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels were told to shut on 23rd March many workers were thrust into panic. I was inundated with emails from constituents describing desperate situations of financial uncertainty, fear of eviction and, in some cases, redundancy. Many employers, with no prospect of income or reopening on the horizon, felt they had no choice but to let staff go. In this moment, the vulnerabilities of the hospitality sector were laid bare: low pay, no savings, few formal contractual arrangements for workers; and small independent firms facing far tougher times than the giant brands which often have the worst record from exploiting workers to avoiding tax.

Now, with plans emerging to allow businesses to reopen safely, it’s vital that we work hard to support the sector, protect jobs and build back better.

The UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which covers 80% of wages, was a welcome measure and in my region of Glasgow, it is estimated that 90% of hospitality workers are receiving an income through the scheme.

However, it’s also clear that it will be a long time before hospitality businesses can operate anywhere near their previous capacity. That’s why I’m calling on the UK Government to also protect jobs by extending its job retention scheme for hospitality workers. People will come back to pubs, bars and restaurants when it’s safe, so there’s no case for simply writing-off huge swathes of the workforce, many of whom are young people already bearing some of the worst economic impacts of this crisis.

It’s important to remember that this is a sector where wages were already the lowest per hour of all industry sectors in Scotland, with 60% of workers earning below the real living wage. Households with a hospitality worker have higher instances of poverty and child poverty than the Scottish average. They are also overwhelmingly young and a majority female, therefore already more likely to be carrying the burden of insecure work and precarious, expensive housing.

So it’s right that alongside vital financial support to the sector – which could include cutting VAT –  there should be a real effort to drive-up standards instead of getting dragged into a race to the bottom. I’d like to see extra help for those employers who’ve chosen to stand by their staff by paying the real Living Wage.

Politicians of all persuasions are saying that recovery from this crisis should be a chance to build back better. It’s become obvious to many that there’s a huge mismatch between the value we attach to many roles in society and the reward they receive in terms of pay and long-term security. Living wage employers know better. They know that improving pay should go alongside a sense of purpose and pride in the workplace. Happier, healthier staff, above all else, will secure a prosperous recovery for hospitality businesses. I want to help employers make that case and I’d love to hear from you.

Patrick Harvie MSP is co-leader of the Scottish Green Party

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