Pizza Express faces protests over fee on waiters’ tips

Exclusive: The Unite union is planning a series of demonstrations outside a number of Pizza Express’s 430 restaurants over the coming weeks

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The Independent Online

Pizza Express chief executive Richard Hodgson is under pressure from waiting staff to drop an 8 per cent administration fee that they lose on credit card tips.

The Unite union is planning a series of demonstrations outside a number of Pizza Express’s 430 restaurants over the coming weeks. It has produced a letter to Mr Hodgson from a member of staff, who disguised her identity, complaining that the fee costs her £3 a night.

The letter states: "I have worked at Pizza Express for 15 years.  After all this time I’m still only paid the national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour. So you see my colleagues and I are heavily reliant on customer tips to top up our low wages.

"Now I work hard and am good at my job, but when Pizza Express thinks it can get away with taking a percentage of our hard-earned tips left on a card, I get upset. That’s why I’m speaking out.

"It’s not just the waiters that find it unfair. Customers often ask whether their tip goes to the staff. When I tell them about the 8 per cent administration fee, they’re genuinely shocked, and will tip in cash instead."

A campaign has been launched and a petition has attracted more than 5,000 signatures. Dave Turnbull, Unite’s officer for the food and drink sector, said: “The vast majority of staff complain about the company taking 8 per cent”. The union, he added, might stage a co-ordinated day of action rather than just a series of disparate demonstrations.

Staff have estimated that the chain could be making as much as £1m from the fee, but management dispute this assertion and insist the company makes no additional profit out of this system.  A Pizza Express spokesperson said: “We choose to operate a ‘tronc’ system, which is used by many in the industry.  One of the big benefits of this system is that tips made by electronic card payment and discretionary service charges are paid without the deduction of national insurance contributions.

“Therefore, our restaurant teams are charged an administrative fee of just 8 per cent, compared to national insurance contributions of 12.8 per cent, which they would otherwise be required to pay.

“All cash tips go straight to the waiters who’ve earned them.  It is then their responsibility to ensure that they declare any earnings they’ve made through cash tips to HM Revenue and Customs so they can be appropriately taxed.”

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