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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

The bitter taste of coffee

by New Worker correspondent

THE fiRST London coffee house was established in 1652 by one Pasqua RosÉe. History does not record what wages were paid to his staff who daily served 600 cups, nor the hours they worked, let alone what happened to the tips.

It is clear however, that workers at Costa Coffee franchises in 2019 do not have an easy time of it. Those at the 29 stores managed by franchise companies Goldex Essex Investments Ltd and Bristal Investments Ltd seem be having an especially hard time of it.

A BBC investigation has discovered that many managers refuse to pay for sickness or annual leave. In addition, working outside of contracted hours and the retention of tips is commonplace.

The allegations include that staff at Costa stores managed by Goldex were charged a minimum of £200 for their own training. A previous complaint against the Goldex by ex-employee Daniel Gyori, for withholding wages, was upheld in court.

Other former Goldex employees claimed they had almost £1,000 of their holiday pay deducted from their salary, despite being contracted to work 48 hours per week. The employees claimed they worked, on average, 60 hours per week because of the expectation to arrive at the store at 05:30 in the morning.

Other complaints were that the long hours made it impossible to find time to see their children, resulting in a severe amount of emotional distress.

At Bristal Investments franchises, employees working under Emilio Aleo alleged they regularly worked 13-hour shifts with only 20-minute breaks. Aleo denies this, saying that breaks “are given in accordance with the hours worked” and that the franchisee complied fully with statutory obligations.

At another Bristal store a former employee claimed that gratuity money earned by staff for good customer service was used to purchase presents for Aleo and his wife and a co-Director.

Aleo claims he is unaware of how tip money is spent, saying: “This is left to the store manager and his/her team of staff to administer. We are not aware of the quantum of any tips/gratuities enjoyed by the staff in each store.”

five minutes

Back at Goldex, one former manager complained that she lost “£150 of wages because she was five minutes late to opening the store”.

Other fines outlined in Goldex contracts were for used uniforms that were damaged when returned to the employer, excessive waste and till discrepancies.

Seema Gill, a consultant employment solicitor at My Business Counsel, states these deductions may be legally contentious.

A Costa Coffee spokeswoman added: “We take any allegations of this nature very seriously and would like to reassure team members and customers that we will not tolerate illegal and unethical behaviour in any circumstances under the Costa Coffee brand.” Costa also said it had “informed all of our Individual Franchise Partners that we will be launching an independent audit into the legal and ethical compliance of their operations, including employment matters”.

The franchise model is a type of licence that allows a third-party partner to have access and rights to a larger business’s logo, name and model, so that the partner can sell a product or provide a service under the business’s name. The model allows big chains to share the burden of investing in new outlets with self-styled entrepreneurs who take their cut from running an established brand. It also helpfully allows the Company at the top of the tree to avoid responsibility for what goes on in their stores.

Needless to say, the goings on at Costa are not isolated cases. In the hospitality industry such deductions are a common way of getting round the minimum wage rules. Trade union density is very low. Official Government figures for 1995—2018 show that the present figure is only 4.6 per cent, 1995 was the high point with a mere eight per cent, and the present figure is a small recovery from a nadir of 2.6 per cent in 2016. Unite and GMB are the two main unions, both undertake frequent recruitment drives that have little long-term impact.