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UK: Whitbread quits ethical trade body after union row over recognition of British workers

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Article
27 September 2017

Addressing the Unite the Union & Whitbread dispute

Author: Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

"Addressing the Unite the Union & Whitbread Dispute," 19 September 2017

...Since Whitbread resigned as an ETI corporate member after a period of only 18 months, [there has been] a media debate about the company’s decision to quit ETI...

ETI can offer some clarity on the situation from our perspective and reiterate the call for meaningful dialogue with Unite [the union] that we made to Whitbread when they were members. But [it is important to note that] [d]uring their short membership, Whitbread met their obligations [by following the] process [to ensure they have effective ethical business policies and practices in place]...

In the case of Whitbread, while it was meeting its foundation level process obligations, this should not be taken to mean that there were no workers’ rights issues within its business or supply chain... Indeed, Unite raised with ETI a number of serious and worrying allegations concerning Whitbread...

After Unite lodged a formal complaint with ETI...[it] attempted...to get Whitbread to engage in good faith mediation, which sadly failed. Whitbread’s resignation means that the complaint is no longer being pursued...

Even after what has become an animated campaign, [ETI’s Executive Director Peter McAllister hopes] that Unite and Whitbread will find a way to start a process of dialogue...and to find constructive solutions that support decent employment in a sector in which both play an important role.

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Article
27 September 2017

Premier Inn owner quits ethical trade body after union row

Author: Sarah Butler, Guardian (UK)

"Premier Inn owner quits ethical trade body after union row," 15 September 2017

...[Whitbread] the owner of Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre has pulled out of the UK’s ethical trade body after a spat with the Unite union over recognition of British workers.

The union said attempts to gain access to workers at Whitbread’s Premier Inn chain, in line with core principles of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which is backed by unions, human rights charities such as Oxfam and companies including Marks & Spencer, Tesco and WH Smith, were at first ignored. It said Whitbread then argued that the ETI’s code on freedom of association did not apply to its direct employees in the UK.

A spokesperson for Whitbread would not give a reason for its withdrawal from the ETI, just over a year after joining, but said it had “an open policy towards our employees belonging to a union. Our employees are completely free to talk to a union, to discuss trade unions in the workplace and to invite a union representative to join them at formal meetings. We have a number of unionised team members who are affiliated with a range of different unions"...

In a letter to Whitbread’s chief executive, Alison Brittain, Unite [the union] said that the company’s “commitments and obligations” on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining “are not currently being met in any practical sense”...

Whitbread said it...remained “100% committed to ensuring ethical and sustainable practice across our global supply chain”...

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Article
27 September 2017

Unite targets anti-union Premier Inn for gagging staff

Author: Unite the Union

"Unite Targets Anti-Union Premier Inn for Gagging Staff," 3 May 2017

...Unite has accused hospitality giant Whitbread, owners of Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, of a flagrant breach of its own company human rights policy, and article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which includes the right to form and join a trade union of your choice. This was after union representatives were told by staff at sites across London that they had been instructed by management not to talk to the union or discuss trade unions at work.

Unite, which represents hundreds of Whitbread workers across the UK, is also pursuing a number of worrying allegations, including claims of unlawful deduction of wages over a failure to pay staff for breaks that they were not allowed to take and a suspected unfair tipping policy which denies workers their tips.  

Reports of the ban about workers discussing their rights has been confirmed by Unite members working for Whitbread- owned brands including Premier Inn, Costa Coffee and Beefeater, across the UK in a recent survey.

Unite, is calling on Whitbread, as the UK’s largest hospitality employer with 50,000 staff, to be a leader for change in the industry by working with the union to build a better and more sustainable business model that respects the rights of workers... 

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