Imperial College Union’s new “Staff Food & Drink Policy” has come under heavy criticism by multiple members of Union bar staff.
Staff were made aware of the new policy, which was drawn up by Julia Mattingley, the Head of Commercial Services, on Monday 29th October. The new policy, which came into effect on 1st November and details a number of changes to the rules surrounding the staff’s entitlements to breaks and to discounted food and drink during their shifts, has proven widely unpopular amongst the Beit bars student staff. The aggrieved staff have pointed out multiple flaws in the new policy.
Key features of the policy include a 15% discount off the full item retail price, which will subsequently see student staff hit with a significant price increase, while full time Union staff will see a decrease in the price of their food. An anonymous Beit Bars student staff member had the following to say:
“They’re claiming that the policy is generous. The discounts are 15% so, on a £5.50 burger which we normally would have got for £3, we now get it for the price it was before they increased the prices last year.”
Changes to staff break entitlements were also outlined in the policy. The policy states:
“All staff (agency, permanent and student) are entitled to a discounted staff meal whilst working a shift of at least 6 hours.”
This immediately raised concerns given that a standard morning shift runs from 11:15 am to 5:00 pm, which falls 15 minutes under the 6 hour threshold and, thus, leaves staff with no break and no food following a shift. Several staff members voiced further concerns about what they perceive as unfair treatment, lamenting the fact that they are no longer entitled to a free drink during these morning shifts “even though they have to do a 3 hour delivery, which is a lot of heavy lifting and it takes up a lot of time and is very intense.” An anonymous Beit bars student staff member added, “so they do a lot in these morning shifts but, because it’s under 6 hours, it’s not considered hard work.” In reality, a stipulation of this policy is that staff will no longer be able to eat unless they work an evening shift, which will then pass midnight.
The harsh and aggressive wording of the policy has also been criticised. The policy states that workers will be considered guilty of theft or gross misconduct if they breach the policy. One Beit bars student staff member explained:
“On particularly busy shifts, kitchen will make surplus curly fries because obviously everyone is coming in and ordering curly fries and burgers, which come with curly fries. At the end of the shifts, sometimes there’s a box or two, not even a ridiculous amount, and they’re saying that the kitchen aren’t allowed to give that to staff; they have to throw it in the bin. Even if the kitchen is closed. You can’t take it, it would be stealing. It’s theft if there’s surplus chips and you want to eat them… all food that isn’t eaten will have to be thrown away.”
One of the Union’s alleged justifications for this is that “the kitchen made a 40% profit margin instead of 60%- that’s not an acceptable difference and, because of that, we need to toughen up on it”.
It has also allegedly been claimed that the reason for the lack of margin is because “staff are basically not following the rules with food”. The Union allegedly further justifies this policy by claiming “it obeys the Working Time Directive”. One Beit bars student staff member commented: “It sets the minimum possible break time you can set under the Working Time Directive. The reality is, on a 13 or 14 hour Sports night, I’ll get a half hour break, if that! Which is the minimum amount they can give… the fact that the Union, which is notionally an organisation that cares about welfare, is going for the bare minimum it can offer its staff in terms of a break is dubious.” It should also be noted that the Union has violated the Working Time Directive for years, since the directive requires a minimum of 11 hours between the end of one shift and the start of the next. The anonymous member of staff added: “if the Union is going to go ‘the Working Time Directive is really important’, they should actually follow the Working Time Directive and not just the bits that benefit them for profit.”
A concerned student told Felix: “It underscores some of the hypocrisy of discussions around the bar… should the Union have to be dragged into treating its staff fairly?”
In staff welfare meetings, there has been “general unrest”. A member of staff commented:
“There are very limited benefits and the staff generally feel unheard and underappreciated. A big thing is that the people who are upstairs in the Union and on this board that make these kinds of policies don’t discuss it with any of the student staff. They don’t discuss it with the casual staff or the supervisors or the managers and so these changes just get implemented without thinking about how it’s going to impact us at all. No input whatsoever. There’s been a lot of upset and this is just going to be a massive kick in the teeth.”
The growing unrest comes amongst claims of alleged manipulative abuse, emotional manipulation and work place bullying within the Beit bars staff and following a dispute surrounding paying Beit bars student staff the London Living Wage, which is afforded to student bar staff at every other London university. Last year, Ella Rice (one of the student bar managers), started a petition on this which got 900 signatures. Staff have even allegedly discussed taking strike action.