Employee Relations and Trade Union Recognition Within The Catering Sector

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The hotel and catering industry represents around 10% of the working population of this country. Two and half million in total. Conversely it is seen as a principle industry in many other countries. Within the UK, historic sites and counties which depend heavily on tourism, such as Cornwall and Devon, also rely heavily on this sector of industry to provide the services required. Without this added aid popular hotels would cease to function properly and other groups within the business world would suffer a knock on effect from lack of trade.

So although the hotel and catering industry is a specific thing many other issues depend upon its success. With this in mind I am going to investigate the pros and cons and implications of instigating a potential claim for recognition of a trade union both now and in the future. This report has been completed after I have research and read copious papers on the subject. Terms and Conditions There are many reasons why the terms and conditions remain so poor within the catering and hotel industry. The main factor for any employee is obviously the pay and hours of work.

Unfortunately, within this sector of industry, pay is substantially lower than in many other areas of business, with 30% of hotel and catering workers earning i?? 3. 60 per hour and with 50% earning less than i?? 4. 50 per hour. Coupled with this are the long shift hours that the job requires with the nightshift from 10pm to 7am being the most unpopular. It is also necessary for employees to have to work split shifts. An example of this can be seen in the hotel business when employees serve morning breakfast. That person will then have time off before having to work once again on the evening shift, serving tea.

This sector of industry also has a very high percentage of job turn over. Obviously if employees are not remaining in employment for long periods of time, there is going to be low job security and exceptionally low job benefits. Job turn over within the sector is currently running at 300% which is exceptionally high. For this type of industry a 75% turn over rate is deemed acceptable. However, this figure is still high compared to other areas of industry. The main reason behind the substantially high turn over is predominantly poor salary and unsociable hours.

Also managers take very little time and consideration when hiring and firing employees. Employees are often recommended by personal friends and business acquaintances or purely by asking if there are any vacancies at reception. This normally means a new employee is only hired on a trial basis. If that trial is deemed a failure then that employee can be sacked without any warning. A high number of young people, normally students and women, have part time jobs within the industry. Because they are only working part time these employees have little power and no recourse to industrial aid.

Consequently these employees tend to have very little support from their bosses and trade unions and could find themselves being dismissed from employment without any form of legal representation. However, this situation does work both ways. Hotel managers have to be able to replace these types of employees quickly, as at any time young, smart and ambitious employees could leave for better opportunities. Finally terms and conditions are not tending to improve within the industry, as the caliber of employee is remaining low.

A large percentage of the workforce are normally low skilled and generally quite happy to augment their wages by including informal rewards such as tips, knock off (theft of small items normally food from employer), fiddles (theft of cash or cheating the customer). In many hotels these informal rewards are well established and accepted as standard behavior. The workforce has little confidence in a union which does not seem to be tailored for their needs. They feel that the support is very limited and non specific.

Although there is potential there they feel that a trade union is not good value for money and as such is not worth the financial contributions employees are required to pay. Especially as over half the workforce within this sector earns less than i?? 4. 50 per hour. Employees feel it is an unnecessary expense on their already limited resources. This will obviously make an employee reluctant to join any trade union, if there are no foreseeable benefits. The labour turn over within the hotel and catering industry is always going to be high.

This is due to the high percentage of part time workers, which includes women, seasonal and casual workers employed within the sector. These employee groups see no immediate benefit in joining a union as many of them will not be in the same employment or even in the same sector of industry for any length of time. Successful unions in the catering industry are normally to be found in large organizations within a compacted area. An example of this is Gardner Merchant, a large catering company preparing meals for large organizations. However, the majority of the catering sector is situated in isolated pockets away from each other.

This is particularly evident in a hotel environment and especially so in a large chain of hotels such as ours. This makes communication with each other difficult and the arrangement of business meetings can be a tedious process. Another major problem which trade unions encounter is the different shift patterns within the industry. An example of this is the shift system employed in all hotels in order to cover both morning and evening duties. This makes communications between union members within these two shifts particularly difficult.

The two main unions supporting the catering industry (Transport & General Worker Union TGWU) and the (General, Municipal, Boiler Makers & Allied Trades Union GMB) have been in contention with each other over who should represent the catering industry. There have been many disputes within recent years on the recognition issues. It hardly instills confidence in employees when the unions fail to agree and it is felt that there is a possible lack of commitment to the industry. This state of affairs is hardly conducive to the smooth running of a hotel.

It is possible to have half of the workforce in one union and the other half could join the rival union. This has made the employees feel that neither union is capable of catering to their needs. This has created a demand for a specific union to be formed to represent the needs of the catering industry as there is a distinct feeling that existing unions lack the expertise and skill needed for such wide ranging interests. However due to the high job turn over, many people do not believe that trade unions really belong within the hotel and catering sector of business.

Perhaps this is the reason why only 6% of the industry are trade union members. Finally the catering sector fills that it does not have the bargaining power that other industries have. For example the gas workers have the ability to paralyse the whole of industry in a way that the caterers would never be able to do. Managers Reluctance Towards Trade Unions From research it has been established that employers and managers within the hotel and catering sector are generally hostile towards trade unions.

This skepticism has always been in the industry and in 1970 a commission on industrial relations acknowledged these findings. Managers see trade unions as a way to disrupt or interfere with the smooth running of their hotel/restaurant. “Managers disliked unions because they interfered with their prerogative, slowed down the decision making process, created dual sources of authority within the organization, were opportunistic and unsympathetic to and ignorant of the way in which the industry worked. ”

(Trade unions in the hotel and catering industry, The views of hotel managers, Employee Relations, Bradford 1993, Volume 15, Issue 2, Start Page 61. ) In the hotel and catering industry it is generally recognized it is the manager’s responsibility to see that the employees are properly looked after and are getting job satisfaction. It is felt that the unions do not have the ability to add any more value to this situation. Also individual managers are allowed to run their hotels as they see fit which, could, if unions flex their muscles, contradict policies from the organizations head office.

Union involvement would undermine manager’s authority and could put an end to the practice of ensuring that all head office policies are adhered to. Managers may find that their latitude to incorporate head office policies were limited. Managers also believe that the sudden interest by trade unions in the hotel and catering sector is a purely cynical one. They believe that far from being philanthropic, trade unions are putting more effort into obtaining more members after the decline of membership throughout the 1980’s.

Also managers believe that the hotel and catering sector has managed to survive successfully without the help of the trade union and the general feeling is the industry is still strong enough without union support. From research it has shown that if the managers are approachable, receptive and reasonable then the workforce is happy. They believe that there is no value or need for trade union involvement at this time in this sector of business. I believe that in order to achieve complete job satisfaction the organization must look at the basic terms and conditions of employment.

I believe that a 5% increase in basic salary would be accepted by the vast majority of employees. To accommodate the increase in expenditure a 10% increase could be put on the price of meals and by specifying that all gratuities are included within the prices tipping could be discontinued. Privilege cards would be issued to employees who have held a post within the hotel for more than six months. These cards would enable employees to have a 15% discount on all products within the establishment.

Hopefully this will increase job satisfaction and employee loyalty helping to combat the ever increasing job turn over rate. All the above will be achieved at no extra cost as hopefully it will help eliminate the amount of informal rewards taking place within the hotel chain, as these are a drain on the resources of the organization At the end of each quarter the employer will host a lunchtime meal for all employees where the quarterly communication report from central office will be cascaded, plus any other relevant issues.

This will be a two way communication meeting with all positive and negative feedbacks being addressed by the manager. This meeting will allow any employee to assess problems he or she may be having. A separate meeting will be arranged for employees who have to work during the quarterly communication meetings. Resulting from the communication meetings the employee will be made aware of the organization’s objectives and strategies and how they will personally be affected by these strategies.

Each strategy and objective implemented will be monitored by head office and the success or not of these objectives will be cascaded at each communication meeting. Head office will agree to send one senior manager to attend one communications meeting a year, with the aim of assessing feedback about the company and also showing commitment to employees. This can work in two ways, it will enable the managers at head office to witness their implemented strategies and objectives and check to see if any misinterpretation has occurred at local management level.

If the employees do not think these meetings are sufficient to cover any grievances or situations each hotel will be allowed to have a three person committee which would be allowed to meet the manager at any specific time. All committee members from the 50 establishments will nominate a three man supreme committee to discuss with head office, strategies, objectives and any major situations within the organization. These would include annual pay rises, financial problems and major disciplinary problems. If employees still have concerns about approaching the committee or management a drop in box could be introduced.

This way any employee who would like to keep anonymity whilst still raising an issue can use the drop in box. Finally in an attempt to increase productivity and job satisfaction an employee of the month award scheme will be implemented. A customer feedback form will be placed at strategic locations around the establishment and employees will be encouraged to ask customers to complete these forms. These forms will ask customers to nominate employees who have given outstanding service to that particular customer.

The three person committee in conjunction with the manager will review these feedback forms on a monthly basis, dealing with any individual problems and nominating one employee for employee of the month. A free weekend break at another hotel in the chain will be offered as a prize. All of the above points will be implemented in the hope of gaining stable and loyal employees. What Policy Should the Hotel Chain Adopt? I would encourage the HR director in the best interest of the organization not to adopt a policy towards union recognition.

Trade union membership, within our industry, is very low and I believe that with the implementation of the above improvements membership will fall even lower. Research has shown there is not one established union able to fulfill the needs of workers within the sector. Also employees do not believe they will get value for money from their contributions. From the evidence already established coupled with the introduction of all the benefits above I can see no reason why our employees would require any help from a trade union.

These benefits would also help the organization as a higher percentage of employee loyalty will be achieved and the need for continuous recruitment would decrease as job turn over should decline. The aim of the committee is to show the employees that management care and share their concerns. This would be the same function that a trade union representative would perform. With the committee in place an individual can raise a specific problem personally. Thereby nullifying the need for a trade union. Listed below are many factors that show the implementation of a trade union is not in the best interest of the organization.


Price Liz. (1993) – The Limitations of the Law in Influencing Employment Practices in UK Hotels and Restaurants – Employee Relation, Bradford, Volume 15, Issue 2

Piso Anne-Marie (1999) – Hotel and Catering Workers Class and Unionisation – Employee Relations, Bradford, Volume 21, Issue 2.

Wynne Jenny (1993) – Power Relationships and Empowerment in Hotels – Employee Relations, Bradford, Volume 15, Issue 2.

Aslan Arsene, Wood Roy (1993) – Trade Unions in the Hotel and Catering Industry The Views of Hotel Managers – Employee Relations, Bradford, Volume 15, Issue 2

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