Tipping point: unions get behind workers fight for fairness

“It’s important to know the union has got your back.”

In a job market rife with insecure casual employment, the role of trade unions in helping workers lay claim to their rights at work and resist exploitation is as relevant than it has ever been.

Sophie works as a waitress in a top London hotel. “Working in hospitality can be really insecure," she says. "There are lots of young people and migrants in our industry. A lot of zero-hours contracts and forced overtime. You can be especially vulnerable if you don’t know your rights. That’s why it’s important to know the union has got your back.”

“You can organise and create better working conditions for yourselves.”

Sophie got involved in a campaign over tips through her union Unite. Most restaurant staff are paid the minimum wage. Tips aren’t a perk – they’re how many restaurant staff make ends meet.

“Waiting staff often have their tips stolen by their company from payments made by card," she explains. "We were sick and tired of hearing about awful practices in the sector. We focused on Pizza Express. We staged protests, got the media interested and signed restaurant staff up to the union. Customers started to ask where their money was going. And we won! Pizza Express dropped their so-called “admin fee” on card payments following our actions. So did the burger chain Giraffe. The government even published a report to promote fair tipping practices as a result of our campaign.

“It just goes to show, you really can organise and create better working conditions for yourselves.”

 “It showed me how much power we have.”

It goes to show that trade unions can make serious, positive changes in people’s lives and be a force for good in society. “It showed me just how much power we have. I am definitely looking to get more active in my union and get better and better working terms and conditions for myself and others.”