Work trials in the hospitality industry

In the last few weeks three incidents have taken place within the events and hospitality industry in Scotland, which have highlighted a few of our less than fair working practices. Scotland just happens to be the particular stage where theses issues are playing out, but the characters and the story could be retold, just the same, in many other countries.

The events and hospitality industry across the globe, relies on a large pool of casual, mostly young, student or migrant workers. In many cases they are unfairly carrying a disproportionate percentage of the burden for a smaller percentage of the rewards. In general these temporary or “precarious” staff are not being treated fairly by our industry.

In this post I wanted to look at the practice of “work trials”.

Everyone is entitled to a fair trial

The first issue I would like to draw attention to is the use of “trial shifts” These are pretty common in the hospitality industry in the UK (and I suspect in many countries) and they have been standard practice for many years.

During a “trail shift” someone turns up and works under the guise of a “trial”. During that time the employer judges whether or not they are up to the job. Meanwhile, the potential worker gets an idea if they like the job or not. Now this all seems perfectly reasonable. However, not everyone would agree, and an SNP member of the UK Parliament is seeking to outlaw the trial shift. The issue is not the “trial” in itself, but the unpaid nature of that work. You see, the “trial” tends to be unpaid.

There is clearly a win-win for both parties being able to size up each other, but I have to ask, why wouldn’t an employer pay a proper rate for that work? Work should always be paid, otherwise it comes close, or perhaps crosses the line into exploitation.

Trial shifts are most common in restaurants but can be found in bars and coffee shops

Work trials in the hospitality industry

I have to say that I haven’t come across any event management company using this practice but I suspect if I search hard enough I will find some examples. Recent examples from a top Edinburgh restaurant and a Gateshead Tea Cafe show that the practice is common in the hospitality industry. In the Edinburgh example you will find the restauranteur defending the indefensible.

I suspect many event organisers are unaware of this practice and that is one of the reasons I wanted to write this piece. So what can we to do highlight the totally unfair nature of this practice?

The first is obvious, do not offer trail shifts at any of your events. The second is less obvious, but just as important. Event Organisers regularly call upon suppliers from the hospitality industry (venues, caterers, bar suppliers, ticketing staff, etc) and it is clear that some of those suppliers will offer unpaid “trial” periods. Taking this a logical step forward, it may be the case that at your next event, there are people working indirectly for you who are not being paid! This idea sits terribly uncomfortably with me. I believe our industry should support any move to outlaw unpaid trial shifts. Stewart McDonald is currently carrying out a consultation on trial shifts and I would encourage event organisers to contribute.

I would also encourage organisers to ask their suppliers if they use unpaid work trials and make it clear that they do not support this practice. Event Organisers should insist that everyone working at their event is paid for their work.

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