The state of the hospitality and service industry is at an all time low. Young people are being shafted – through low pay, precarious hours, and even harassment and danger to one’s health. Does this sort of thing sound familiar? Have you had shifts cancelled with no warning? Have you or a friend been fired for reasons that aren’t clear? Does management help themselves to your tips or make you work through your break? Have you worked a full shift as a “trial” and received absolutely nothing in return?
It’s a horrible situation, and it’s tempting to feel like there’s nothing you can do. But this is exactly what campaigns like Better than Zero want to help you with. To learn more, I spoke to Bryan Simpson, one of the chief organisers with the campaign.
Who is Better than Zero?
Better than Zero is, in their own words – “the nationwide campaign against poverty pay and zero hours contracts.” They take action against Scotland’s most exploitative bosses in order to improve working conditions.
The Better than Zero campaign was originally organised by Scottish Trade Unions Congress in 2015. Trade unions are “groups of workers organised together to win a better deal at work.” Trade union membership is a vital part of retaining and promoting your rights at work, whatever job you do and however many hours you work at it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much specific union support for the hospitality and service industry until recently. Bryan explains how this affected young people’s relationship to trade unions – “More people work in call centres [now] than coal mines. Trade unions – who by and large focused on maintaining those industries where they were strong – were not relevant to this generation of workers.”
However, the leadership of younger members “sought to turn unions towards more precarious industries such as hospitality and call centres.” This then led directly to the creation of campaigns such as Better than Zero and Unite Hospitality.
What do Better than Zero do for young workers?
As Bryan explains, these newer campaigns are explicitly to serve the needs of workers in the modern hospitality industry which has hitherto been “untouched by trade unions” – but in desperate need of the kinds of support and services they could provide. And it’s clear that young people are keen to get involved.
“In the last 5-10 years we have seen a steady increase in young workers joining trade unions,” Bryan says. “For example, in Unite the Union we have seen a net increase of 38,000 members under the age of 30 between 2015-2017.”
Better than Zero has had a number of successes since their launch in 2015, Bryan notes, with high profile campaigns against several hospitality companies across Scotland and the UK who were taking part in unscrupulous employment tactics – including taking tips off employees, making employees pay for their own uniform and any breakages on shift, and making those in “training” work up to 40 hours without pay.
In addition to specific cases, Better than Zero also trains activists, “equipping them with the legal knowledge and organising skills to change their workplaces from within.” This is vital for securing the future of employment rights and creating a new generation of activists and informed workers who can maintain current successes.
This sounds great! How do I get involved?
If this sounds appealing to you, or you just want some advice about your present or future work situation, Bryan has some advice.
“The best way to get involved is to join the trade union which organises in your workplace or industry and come along to our next organising meeting. Check out our page for the dates of the next meeting in your locality.”
So come along, meet new people and get involved in securing the future of young people in work!
Words by Morgaine Das Varma.