Waiters to charge pounds 1,000 for working on millennium eve

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WAITERS willing to work on New Year's Eve 1999 are demanding a millennial sum to mark the millennium: pounds 1,000 to serve customers wanting to toast the end of the century.

Managers of some of the plushest London venues are already negotiating over pay for the big night with representatives of all kinds of staff, from kitchen hands to maitre d's. For musicians who will normally work at a local dinner dance for between pounds 100 and pounds 150, club managers are now being asked to pay 10 times the amount. Star entertainers like Michael Barrymore could expect to pocket pounds 10,000 for a night's work, according to Equity officials.

Christine Bradley of Reed Catering Personnel, which will be supplying thousands of staff for millennium parties warned yesterday that her company is asking for "at least" five times the normal rate for their services. For police officers, firefighters and ambulance staff it will be work as usual, although in some cases it may be a question of drawing lots or simply working your shift.

Talks on pay for those in the service industries have begun as inquiries on reservations for tables and bookings for holidays for 31 December 1999 have started to increase.

More than three million Britons already know how they are going to be enjoying themselves seeing in the new year 2000. Nearly 40 per cent of these well organised souls are going to jet abroad, while around 30 per cent plan to go to some form of party. The rest roughly divide between those wanting to be close to their loved ones or to hit the town with friends, according to a survey by Independent Financial Adviser.

For those who are well-to-do and planning to stay in, hiring an outside caterer for a family get-together at home, the advice from agencies is to forget it - unless they are super-rich. The very wealthy may also want to hire a very special, private venue - like a Scottish castle. Prices being touted are around the pounds 10,000-a-night mark. Country-house agents Strutt & Parker, are letting mansions for around pounds 5,000.

The Department of Trade and Industry recently authorised an extra bank holiday for the millennium celebrations on New Year's Eve, but an official pointed out that there is no right to take a day off. The right to be absent from work or earn a premium rate for going in is all down to individual or collective negotiation.

Most union officials argue that permanent employees will expect something more than the double time they normally get for working bank holidays. The going rate for millennium claims at the moment is quadruple time, plus a day off in lieu.

Supermarkets have not yet decided whether to stay open, but the appropriate pay rates for the occasion have already been exercising the minds of employees. Employees at Safeway's depot at Aylesford in Kent will be claiming pounds 33.08p an hour plus a day in lieu, or pounds 38.89 without a day off. That compares with their normal rate of pounds 5.81 an hour and the pounds 3.60 an hour national minimum wage which will be in force by then.

The GMB general union plans to lodge a claim on behalf of casino staff in London to have New Year's Eve 1999 off. Failing that, quadruple time and a day of in lieu would be acceptable, according to Paul Kenny, the union's regional official. "Let's face it, you don't want to be cleaning out some bog after a drunk without reasonable compensation," he said.

A particular target for Mr Kenny is London Clubs International. The company's chief executive Alan Goodenough recently received a 110 per cent boost to his earnings to pounds 851,000 a year while warning his staff that they might have to endure a pay freeze. "If it's good enough for Mr Goodenough, it's good enough for my members," said Mr Kenny. I bet he won't be working on millennium New Year's Eve."

David Harris of Caterer and Hotel Keeper magazine, pointed out that many of those demanding extra money for waiting jobs during the big celebrations will be students who often try to pay their way through university by taking jobs in the industry: "They aren't particularly well-paid and a lot of them won't want to work on such an occasion, but those who do will want to be well-paid. Therefore hotels and restaurants will have to respond. It's a simple question of supply and demand."

Some hotels and restaurants assert that wage demands are so outrageous and the problems of trying to find staff willing to work so enormous that they intend to close on New Year's Eve. Some of London's best, including the Ivy and the River Cafe, have already said they would be closed.

Jeremy Logie, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said that a tenth of the 25,000 establishments covered by his organisation had definitely decided to close. More than three out of 10 of his members were undecided whether to open, while another two out of ten said they would only provide facilities for private parties.

So where will Mr Logie be on 31 December, 1999? "I will almost certainly be at home in front of the fire with some friends and a decent bottle of champagne. But bearing in mind the possibility of computers crashing all over the place, I will have a box of candles on hand in case the lights go out."

Additional reporting by Mark Oliver