Chantal Chegrinec gives the inside story behind Unite’s successful Fair Tips campaign

We did it! Or rather people power did it.Pizza Express fair tips

Last week Pizza Express announced that it is to drop the 8% admin fee it takes from staff tips paid on a card. It was an impressive victory for Unite’s fair tips campaign.

The union has been at the forefront of the fight to get the 430-strong Pizza Express chain to stop skimming a percentage of its staff’s hard earned tips.

Over the past few weeks tipping has been everywhere – on an almost daily basis the media revealed the rot at the heart of the restaurant industry’s unfair tipping practices.

The scandal sparked a huge public backlash with customers taking to social media to share their outrage.

Our Pizza Express campaign has shown that when enough people speak out, companies listen. Since the campaign was launched, four have now vowed to give 100% of all tips to staff with Ask and Zizzi joining Pizza Express and Giraffe in axing its administration charges on card tips.

But not only that, Unite’s Pizza Express members have shown why being part of a trade union matters. By standing together to challenge bad employment practices, we win. Even against big, rich multi-national companies. And with the government determined to destroy the trade union movement it’s an important win.

How we won it! Our recipe for success

Simple really, peaceful direct action, coupled with a strong online campaign. Throughout the summer, the union’s activists did a sterling job, taking the message direct to customers and staff alike. We went into Pizza Express branches to speak to waiting staff, followed up with weekly protests, handed out hundreds of flyers with customers given a ‘scrap the admin fee’ postcard to leave with their cash tips.

The message was simple ‘stop pinching staff tips’, with customers urged to tip in cash until the chain axed its unfair fee. It hit a nerve with customers.

In July the campaign went online with the launch of a TUC petition calling on CEO Richard Hodgson to scrap the 8% admin fee.  By the end of the campaign nearly 10,000 had people signed up with hundreds posting comments condemning the practice.

It spread like wildfire on social media – Unite targeted the company’s twitter account, tweeting @PizzaExpress on a near daily basis, sticking to our simple message – scrap the admin fee.

But it was in August that the campaign went truly stratospheric after the Independent published the first of many pieces on tipping, quoting Unite’s secret Pizza Express worker.

From that point on, tipping was in the headlines in all major newspapers, on television and the radio on an almost daily basis. We had reached the tipping point on tipping. Unite’s Dave Turnbull sat on the sofa with Eammon and Ruth (ITV’s This Morning), and spoke on the radio and to journalists across the country.

In August, Unite stepped it up a notch with its first ‘meal of justice’.  This is when protesters went into a restaurant, enjoyed a meal and when the bill came, one person stood up and told customers about the admin fee while the others handed out postcards. Customers responded with spontaneous applause.

Why did this campaign hit a nerve? Because customers were rightly outraged to discover that the tips they leave to show their appreciation to the (minimum-waged) staff that served them were being creamed off by profitable restaurant chains – many of which are owned by off-shore private equity firms. Not surprisingly it left a bad taste in most people’s mouths.

The fight goes on

The union’s Pizza Express members took a brave stand against a multi-national company and won. But we couldn’t have done it without the public getting behind the campaign in the way that it did.

Now, Unite will turn its attention to the other restaurants still not playing fair on tips. Because as we’ve seen there are still too many restaurants taking a slice of staff tips. Restaurants like, Cote, Las Iguanas, Café Rouge, Belgo and Bella Italia to name a few.

What can you do?

If you’re not in a trade union, join one now. And for all trade unionists out there, keep spreading the word. Remember, every time you eat out ask your waiter about the company’s tipping policy. If they don’t get 100% please tip in cash.

Stay involved – to find out more about Unite’s fair tips campaign go to www.unitetheunion.org/fairtips


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Chantal Chegrinec

Chantal is a campaigns officer at Unite the Union.

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