Burger King pays pounds 106,000 to staff forced to 'clock off'

Barrie Clement Labour Editor
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:50
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BARRIE CLEMENT

Labour Editor

The fast-food chain Burger King has paid out pounds 106,000 in compensation to staff employed on controversial "zero-hours" contracts.

The 900 employees, who received average back pay of pounds 118 for the six months to September, had been made to stand around, unpaid, in the burger restaurants until business picked up.

One Glasgow student said that he had received pounds 1 for a five-hour stint, and another employee in Cardiff claimed she was paid nothing after she had worked a shift.

The Labour Party, together with the unions, had campaigned for Burger King to pay compensation after it was revealed that staff were being told to clock off for unpaid breaks.

In a letter to Ian McCartney, Labour's employment spokesman, the company insisted that such scheduling did not constitute company policy and that the practice was not widespread. Mr McCartney has led the campaign against zero-hours contracts and says that a future Labour government would make them unlawful.

The letter to Mr McCartney, from Craig Bushey, managing director (Western Europe) of Burger King, said: "The back pay was calculated on the difference between the hours that employees were scheduled to work and those for which they received payment, irrespective of whether they volunteered to go home.

"Because it was not possible to identify those occasions where people stopped work on a voluntary basis, we decided to compensate all staff who worked less hours than they had been scheduled," he wrote.

Mr Bushey pointed out that the number of employees who had received compensation was therefore larger than those who had been affected by the "misuse of rostering".

He expressed the hope that "the action taken by Burger King puts this issue to rest and demonstrates our commitment to equitable employment practices".

The practice of offering zero- hours contracts is increasingly widespread in the service sector, especially in hotels and restaurants. While it minimises labour costs for the employer, possibly at the expense of the employee, there is no law to prevent any employer using these arrangements.

Mr McCartney said the payout was a complete vindication of the party's campaign against such conditions of employment. He said that he had suspected that the practice was widespread because of the number of letters he had received.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said that the Burger King case exposed the myth that low pay was a problem only in small and struggling firms. "It shows that workers in large as well as small firms need the protection of a minimum wage," he said.

Owned by the Grand Metropolitan group, Burger King has told its managers that the practice of telling staff to clock off during quiet periods is not acceptable.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, said: "We are delighted that the company have opened their wallets to recompense for their bad practice.

"We will be watching like hawks to wipe out this practice from British workplaces."

Mr McCartney, welcoming the payout, said: "Scrooge has backed down just in time for Christmas."

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