Coronavirus: ‘Pay your staff’ graffitied on Wetherspoon pub after millionaire owner says workers might want to get jobs in Tesco

‘Whilst other companies such as Costa have promised their staff eight weeks fully paid, Wetherspoons have left over 40,000 people without their next pay date,’ say employees on strike

Kate Ng
Wednesday 25 March 2020 11:25 GMT
Tim Martin sends video message to staff encouraging them to work for Tesco

A message to Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin to “pay your staff” has been sprayed all over one of the millionaire’s pubs in Crystal Palace.

The Postal Order on Westow Street had the phrases “pay your staff” and “pay up” graffitied on its windows in red and white spray paint.

A photo of the vandalised pub, shared by Sophia Money-Coutts on Twitter on Wednesday morning, has received support from many who condemned Mr Martin for suggesting his staff might want to take jobs in Tesco and not reassuring employees that JD Wetherspoon would pay them after 22 March.

The 64-year-old boss sent a video out late on Monday after the UK government ordered pubs to close to stop the spread of Covid-19.

He said: “I know that all our trade now has gone to supermarkets. Not only our trade, but the trade from cafes, leisure centres, restaurants, etcetera.

“So we have had lots of calls from supermarkets —​ Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That’s half the amount of people who work in our pubs.”

Mr Martin made no suggestion that Wetherspoon would pay its staff until money from the government, which will pay 80 percent of wages of staff, came through.

He said the money could take weeks to come through, and added: “If I’m honest, I could say you can get the furlough payments and stay at home.

“[But] if you’re offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that. If you think it’s a good idea, do it. I can completely understand. If you’ve worked for us before I promise we will give you first preference if you want to come back.”

A strike movement has been formed by a group of Wetherspoon employees called Spoon Strike and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), demanding the company give them full pay.

In a statement, Spoon Strike said: “After waiting for three days for word from our head office, today we were informed that the company would pay us only for the hours we have worked up until 22nd March.

“From that point on we will not receive any payment from JDW until they receive the government grant, which could be until the end of April.

“Whilst other companies such as Costa have promised their staff eight weeks fully paid, Wetherspoons have left over 40,000 people without their next pay date. With no means of paying for rent, bills or food, and no warning.”

Employees were also stripped of bonuses already earned, said the group, and there has been no confirmation of how the money from the UK government will be calculated and distributed.

A petition set up by the strike group has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.

A spokesman for JD Wetherspoon told The Independent: "No one has the right to vandalise one of the company’s pubs. This does not help the situation in any way.

“The company is dealing with this unprecedented situation as best it can. Many companies in the hospitality industry have already laid off staff, however, Wetherspoon has paid staff up to date and is waiting on the government to bring its payment scheme into operation so that it can continue to pay staff.

“We acknowledge the petition but the union and the signatories also need to accept the financial position which Wetherspoon finds itself in, with all of its pubs closed.”

Wetherspoon is the latest business to receive criticism for its treatment of staff as measures to curb the spread of coronavirus plunged the economy into uncertainty.

On Tuesday, activewear company Sports Direct took a swift U-turn on its initial plan to keep its shops open following backlash from MPs and trade unions.

The retailer previously argued it provided an essential service because it was “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible”.

MP Ian Lavery, chair of the Labour Party, accused the company’s founder and chief executive of being “prepared to endanger the life of his employees and the public at large” and told him to “take some responsibility”.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove also commented on the issue on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and said there was “no justification” for the retailer to remain open.

Last week, Coylumbridge Aviemore Hotel, which belongs to hotel chain Britannia Hotels, was slammed after it issued letters to its employees sacking them immediately and leaving some homeless.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance called the letter “cold, brutal and shocking” and condemned the hotel chain’s actions.

Britannia Hotels later said the letter was an “administrative error” and apologised “for any upset caused” but could not confirm if staff would be re-instated.

Update: This article was amended on 17 January 2024. It previously said that Mr Martin had suggested his 40,000 staff should go to work at Tesco amid pandemic uncertainty, but this was inaccurate. In fact, Mr Martin had said that if staff were offered a job in a supermarket, he would understand if they wanted to take it. Wetherspoon has also asked that we clarify that all its staff were paid by Wetherspoon up until the point of pub closures, after which staff received furlough pay on an uninterrupted basis without any delay to payment. We are happy to do so.

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