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'People are getting exploited': New law aims to ensure waiting staff get their tips

Put forward by Sinn Féin senators, the law aims to ensure “transparency” over where your tip is going.

Image: Shutterstock/macgyverhh

JAMES BEGAN WORKING at a well-known restaurant chain some time ago.

He was told that, during his trial period, which had been set for one week, that he wouldn’t receive any of the tips he earned during his shift.

His trial period was extended and, upon completion, he was told that he would only take home 50% of the tips he earned each night.

From the start, he said he was told by management that they would be withholding his tips for work nights out and a Christmas party.

Earning only €9.15 per hour at the time, the money earned from tips would have been essential for James.

Sinn Féin says that this is only one example of a range of cases where workers in bars and restaurants are denied the tips left by customers.

To guarantee that these often low-paid workers are legally entitled to receive this money, a group of senators have introduced the Protection of Employee Tips Bill 2017, to ensure that workers in service sectors receive tips.

Under the act, “an employer shall not withhold tips or other gratuities from an employee, make a deduction from an employee’s tips or other gratuities or cause the employee to return or give his or her tips or other gratuities to the employer”.

If an employer does take gratuities from their staff, “the amount withheld, deducted, returned or given is a debt owing to the employee” and treated as if it were wages owed to that worker.

There is also provision in the bill for an employer to be obliged to display on menus, or in another suitable manner, its policy on the distribution of tips to workers.

Put forward by Sinn Féin senators Paul Gavan, Trevor O’Clochartaigh and Fintan Warfield, they said that “customers want to know where their tip is going when they leave it on the table”, and that this bill would ensure transparency in this regard.

“Workers do not have the legal right to take home tips they have earned,” they said, “and there have been numerous surveys and testimonies highlighting that workers are often denied the right to take home tips they have earned”.

A recent investigation conducted by TheJournal.ie found that there were numerous examples of apparent abuses within the hospitality industry.

Rachel, a 19-year-old who worked as a member of waiting staff, said: “We were understaffed so on busy days like Saturdays or Sundays, we’d work from 9-5 and not get a break. What was worse was that our pay would be deducted for the breaks that we didn’t get.

Also if the till was ever under, we had to supplement it with our tips.

Amalia (not her real name), a 28-year-old who also worked as waiting staff, told TheJournal.ie: “At the time, we would share tips among all the staff, but we had no control over/access to it and from time to time, management and barmen would take money from our tip box without telling anyone and we would only see some of this money maybe every six weeks or more.”

Gavan, and colleagues, said that their bill is modelled on a Canadian law brought through last year to deal with the very same issue, and that the UK was also considering action in this regard.

Last year, the UK government published a report on tipping practices, after unions accused outlets such as Pizza Express and Giraffe of abusing codes set up to stop tips being used by employers to meet the minimum wage.

The report recommended that charges imposed on staff tips by employers should be scrapped or limited, while service charges on customers should be shown clearly with an emphasis on their voluntary nature.

The bill was brought for its first stage through the house last week. It is hoped that it will win cross-party support and be voted into law in the coming months.

The senators concluded: “It’s a simple bill that makes it illegal for an employer to withhold, deduct or demand the return of a tip from an employee without a lawful excuse”.

With reporting from Garreth MacNamee

Read: ‘It’s like they’re treated like slaves’: Exploitation in the hospitality sector

Read: Harassment, no holidays and low pay: Readers share their hospitality work horror stories

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Sean Murray

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