Tim Martin’s poor treatment of his workers during the government lockdown has fuelled calls for a boycott of the chain. Could this hurt the wrong people?
In late March, as lockdown was coming into effect across the UK, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin told his workforce of over 40,000 that he would not be paying them past the 22nd of that month. He was also recorded telling them to find work at a supermarket instead.
His actions ignited a huge backlash from MPs, the trade union known as ‘Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union’, and many others, resulting in a rare capitulation from Martin, who said staff could be paid into April provided the government agreed on reimbursement.
Between then and now, as Spoons plan to open hundreds of pubs in July, calls for a boycott have grown in condemnation of the business’s treatment – some would say abandonment – of its workforce.
The women and men who are truly responsible for the chain’s success are viewed as expendable by those who profit most from their labour
Wetherspoons is hardly the only multi-million pound company to have attracted condemnation over the past few months – the ‘essential’ Sports Direct also springs to mind – but this company and its boss’s initial disregard for the well-being of its huge workforce is particularly shocking, and even more so in the middle of a crisis.
Though they were pressured into U-turning and paying staff weekly, it is worth remembering that this is far from the company’s preferred course of action.
Many may question whether Wetherspoons deserves our custom after it made so clear that the women and men who are truly responsible for the chain’s success are viewed as expendable by those who profit most from their labour.
There is certainly no shortage of smaller, independent alternatives, after all (although an independent business doesn’t necessarily mean better working conditions).
Boycotting Wetherspoons pubs against the wishes of organised workers such as SpoonStrike seems counter-productive and unwise
But those Wetherspoons’ workers, who have already been subjected to huge uncertainty at the hands of their employer, would likely bear the brunt of any impact a boycott could have. Jobs, hours, and pay could all be cut for staff – with little impact on Tim Martin.
In fact, unionised workers, SpoonStrike, have made a list of demands for when they return to work, including full sick-pay and no penalties for not reaching targets. They have also explicitly stated that they are not in support of a boycott.
Boycotting Wetherspoons pubs against the wishes of organised workers such as SpoonStrike seems counter-productive and unwise.
Of course, continuing to visit your local Spoons with the knowledge of some of its owner’s unethical practices in the middle of a pandemic, probably won’t sit well morally.
The uncomfortable reality, however, is that the staff who will pour your pint or fill your pitcher will still need to pay their bills when they go home, and the best way to help them do that is to act in solidarity with their wishes.
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