An attempt to introduce Europe-wide rules to prevent restaurant staff being denied customers' tips by their employers will be made in the autumn.
Labour members of the European Parliament want rules throughout the 27-nation European Union to ensure staff are not paid less than the national minimum wage of their country on the ground that tips will take them up to that level. They argue that a common policy on tipping would reduce the confusion about local practices when people travel to another member state.
They will stage a debate on the issues raised by The Independent's "fair tips, fair pay" campaign in the Strasbourg parliament when it returns from its summer break in September. They will urge the European Commission, which draws up EU laws, to bring forward proposals.
The move will increase the pressure on the British Government to act. Although the EU can make rules on workplace rights, such as its social chapter, ministers may prefer to bring in their own rules rather than have them imposed by Brussels.
Britain might not be able to block a Europe-wide law because decisions on social policy can be taken by qualified majority voting.
Downing Street has said the issue is on the Government's agenda but ministers may want to consult the hospitality industry before making a final decision – another reason why they may be reluctant to see EU legislation.
Stephen Hughes, the Socialist Group's spokesman on employment and social affairs, said yesterday: "This problem goes right across Europe. It affects France and Belgium as well as the UK. It is a European-wide problem which requires a European-wide solution."
Mr Hughes, the Labour MEP for the North-east, added: "Wherever there are minimum wages, the same practices are being carried out. Companies are ripping off their employees.
"MEPs, like MPs at Westminster, spend a lot of time away from home. There is genuine sympathy for people who serve them in restaurants. MEPs are shocked to find that their tips are being used to subsidise pay."
Fifty-two MPs from all parties have now signed a Commons motion welcoming The Independent's campaign and calling on the Government to amend the rules under which the minimum wage operates. It has been tabled by the Labour MP Michael Connarty, who has fought a long campaign on the issue.
The Commons will discuss the issue in October. Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on business and enterprise, has tabled an amendment to the Employment Bill that would prevent tips being counted towards the legal wage. She said yesterday: "It will close a major loophole that allows employers to use tips as an excuse to dock the minimum wage.Consumers leave a tip because they want to reward someone who has given excellent service. It is shocking that people's generosity is being abused at the expense of workers who are already underpaid."
She added: "I hope that MPs from all parties will back this amendment to stop restaurant bosses dishonestly using their customers to subsidise staff pay."
MPs have been advised by Commons officials that an amendment on tipping would fall within the scope of the Bill, which will strengthen the enforcement of the minimum wage to crack down on firms who seek to avoid paying it. The most serious cases will be triable in Crown Court, allowing tougher penalties to be imposed. Investigators from HM Revenue and Customs will get new powers to obtain information from firms. When workers who have been paid less than the minimum wage are recompensed, arrears will be based on the current rate rather than the one that applied at the time of the underpayment.
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