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Working in the Cafe and Bar Culture

From Jeremy Godden

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

There has been much talk about the marvellous (or otherwise) cafe and bar culture in Hebden Bridge and indeed further up the Calder Valley. 

One side of this that hasn't been mentioned is the people who work in them. Most of them are young adults starting out in life. As a parent I hear about the working conditions my offspring and their friends have experienced.  It is a very mixed bunch from supportive employers to exploitative zero hours contracts where pay is unpredictable and working rights are ignored. The outlets survive on a ready supply of replacement labour when people leave.

This is the unpleasant  but real face of our happy inclusive socialist friendly valley. No doubt this reflects the wider service based world we now live in. Quite what we do about this I am not sure. Naming and shaming would probably be open to abuse. Hardly anybody is in a Union now unfortunately. I am thinking of a local kite mark or some such for employers who respect basic workers rights. (Things like proper  written contracts, itemised payslips, clear holiday pay entitlements, pay that arrives on time.)

Has any one got any ideas?

From Marco Nizzardo

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Interesting post Jeremy. I wish there could be more answers to your stimulating thoughts on an issue that is quite important in Hebden Bridge.

Our small cafe' has always put in front the wellbeing of our staff (it pays in terms of enthusiasm and hard work). The only regret I have is that I don't see many young people who actually want to build a career in hospitality and catering and often approach the job in an unprofessional way.

When someone comes at the cafe and as ks for a job, I always ask them what they want to do ''when the grow up''. Google analyst, journalists, engineers, musicians etc. Not a single one that says they want to learn how to cook or run a food business. Nevertheless, I would really like to hear what these young cafe workers have to say for themselves and other cafe owners' opinions. Ask your daughter and their friends to share their experience I'm sure they read Hebweb as well.

From Jeremy Godden

Friday, 12 January 2018

 I think Marco you point out a valid problem with British people's equivocal attitude to working in the hospitality trade. No doubt some young workers lack commitment to the work and this causes frustrating problems to people like yourself. 

However, my point was at a more basic level. Essentially, young workers (and everyone else) should have basic rights upheld. (Whether they are committed workers or not). Many businesses do this as I'm sure yours does but a minority don't. This includes failure to pay wages, failure to produce proper employment contracts and regular payslips and also to organise holiday pay.

From Pete Keal, Secretary, Calderdale Trades Council

Monday, 15 January 2018

Thanks for raising this issue, Jeremy, and highlighting the position of workers in our cafes and bars.

As you point out, they should be treated with dignity and respect at work and basic employment rights should be upheld.

More than 5.5 million people are members of trades unions and participating in a trade union remains the best way for workers to press for better pay and conditions. 

Calderdale Trades Council’s Sick of Being Skint? campaign calls for all workers to be paid £10 per hour and urges working people to join a trade union. A digital version of the campaign postcard  can be downloaded here

Working with unions such as the Bakers’ Union BFAWU, we have taken the campaign to over 60 workplaces in Calderdale including some in Hebden Bridge. Last September, the BFAWU organised the first ever strikes in McDonald’s outlets in the UK and the company has offered substantial pay increases after pressure from the #mcstrike campaign. See McStrike

To find out more about trades union membership, either text: 07728 450951,  e-mail, or tweet to @calderdaletuc. We would be happy to discuss the problems workers are having or arrange for them to meet an organiser from an appropriate union.

From Dan Debenham

Monday, 2 April 2018

A couple of things I thought worth responding to on this important subject. 

The original post referred to the various "marvelous (or otherwise)" opinions of cafe and bar culture in HB. I think this is the crux of the matter and the important detail that unites the relevance of the initial post with Marco's comment and the one that followed.

The following might seem long winded, but a discussion of employee satisfaction is impossible without looking at the context employees operate within. 

Hebden Bridge, regardless of personal opinions (and despite obvious exceptions) has a general reputation locally and in Calderdale as being expensive and average with regard to coffee shops and food. 

There are a few reasons for that with, imo, the three biggest being as follows:

1. The discrepancy between high local commercial rent and the actual financial value of the tourist trade used to justify it.  

It's great that so much national press is focused on how great Hebden is but the impression of that in the town as a whole often doesn't carry over to the trade reality of many businesses, and at best leaves a huge swing to navigate come low-season.  

That means business owners trying to mitigate low season turnover (or plan in advance to) by addressing the highest cost they have: staff.

2. A local culture of (beautiful but problematic) blind solidarity and back-patting that ignores just how many businesses in Hebden Bridge are unremarkable, inexperienced and failing in a challenging climate of severe seasonal instability.  

Left to market forces these businesses would fail and more efficient and "high value" businesses would replace them. 
In Hebden Bridge, we have initiatives like the new HebdenBridge.org website to assist struggling businesses through networking, solidarity, shared visibility etc. Obviously this is great (although the jury seems out on the new website so far) and illustrates what is special about Hebden, but we can't occupy both ends of the scale - it's either a hub of profitable, efficient and effective businesses... or a less viable (but more community minded) unified network of co-dependents... or somewhere in-between as we are now.
This is obviously a minefield to even discuss because we're talking about people's livelihoods and members of our community, but consumer demand is the unfortunate fact of the matter when it comes to profitability. And profitability is essential if a business is going to provide a quality experience to its employees. 

3. Idealism.  People visit Hebden Bridge or move here and witness the solidarity mentioned above (which ironically is often a reaction to difficult business conditions) and combined with the town aesthetic, diverse population and once again, the apparent conveyor belt of outside money coming in... they surmise that what would be a risky enterprise somewhere else will make them a lot of money in Hebden. Add this to the usual skewed optimism people have setting up their grand idea and it's a recipe for businesses that limp. Which is fine for the landlords, but not at all great for the owner, staff, locals, tourists and future of the town. 

All that adds up to many struggling local employers being even more highly motivated than elsewhere to cut costs. And in the low-skilled end of the service industry that only means one thing.

Food and drink businesses that thrive here (and you don't have to look far to find them) either do so by advantages of size (economies of scale, buying power etc), or by being remarkable. The former can get away with paying low wages to a fast replenishing labour pool (and is usually the worst for it) because they have high volume in a busy town and can afford high losses of eventually disappointed customers, but the latter "remarkable" business can't operate that way because it relies on reputation and quality of goods and service to stay profitable... and maintaining that requires high quality service professionals.   

This is the most unfortunate fact of the service industry and one that Marco alluded to: young people don't typically desire a career in hospitality, because they don't respect it, and because in general it doesn't respect them. The industry doesn't respect them because they usually can't be bothered learning and don't plan on staying, seeing it as a stop gap before they get to something "serious". And they don't respect the industry because their experience of it is usually the non-specialised, low-skilled and poor quality examples of it... one of which being the businesses that limp along in a market artificially perpetuated outside the normal market influences of consumer demand. 

The long winded point I'm making is that if we want employees to get a better deal, we need to find ways to create a business environment that is fertile ground for effective, profitable (to owner, staff and customers) establishments to take root. The most immediate way of doing that is letting the consumer dictate which businesses thrive. 

What won't work is correcting the symptom rather than the problem by legally mandating £10 per hour for low-skilled, uncommitted staff. 

There are only two outcomes in applying that strategy to small businesses. Either you end up running already struggling establishments into the ground who simply can not afford that wage bill without a relative increase in quality of service, or (much more likely) you force employers to re-allocate their resources away from staffing, by investing in faster machinery or outside consultants to refine their operation. 

Many employers (myself included) would just downsize and do the hours themselves. In any of those three cases, previously low paid staff become simply jobless. 

This argument counts equally against the national minimum wage. 

Labour is a resource, however unpalatable that might be to us. It's value is what the market dictates. If a worker wants to increase the value of their labour, all they can do is work harder, smarter, or more passionately. Any one of the three translates to happier customers and increased profitability which I as an employer would always be happy to share. 

It's always worth bearing in mind when discussing "workers" and "business owners", at least with regard to small businesses, that we're not living in some black and white Marxist cartoon where the workers are uniformly downtrodden and the boss is a lazy capitalist leech. I've yet to know a small business where the boss isn't the hardest worker in the place, and more often than you might expect, takes the same wage or less than the staff they fight to keep in employment. 

Sorry for the ramble. Strikes me as a vital and often ignored subject. 

Please keep this discussion general and avoid naming specific businesses - Ed