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12.10.2022 / News /

Judge orders Union-busting pizza chain to keep paying sacked UVW member

“I am very happy. This win is a good indication that my dismissal by Pizza Pilgrims will be found to be unfair when we go to trial. This process raises important questions as to the actual reason for my dismissal and whether it was in fact due to my union activities.”

Ben Gray, sacked Pizza Pilgrims waiter and UVW member

On Monday a judge ordered London’s Pizza Pilgrims (PP) restaurant chain to put a waiter and United Voices of the World (UVW) member back on the payroll, backdate his wages and pay his wages in full until his final hearing on unfair dismissal and trade union victimisation. This is UVW’s sixth successful Interim Relief claim in the past month, in our ongoing fight against vicious union-busting by employers.  

Over the course of a year PP waiter Ben Gray organised his colleagues into UVW, hoping to secure a recognition deal between the union and the restaurant. UVW claims his abrupt dismissal was carried out without due process and on flimsy and fabricated grounds.

Gray claims he was sacked for trade union activities following a year-long organising drive at the pizza chain. In granting Interim Relief, the judge stated that there was “high certainty” that waiter Ben Gray could prove in a final hearing that he had been unfairly sacked for his trade union activities. There was a “high degree of animosity towards union activity” from the employer, the judge commented.

Ben Gray, UVW organiser and waiter, said: “I am very happy that the Employment Tribunal has ruled in my favour in regards to granting me Interim Relief. This win in the pre-trial hearing is a good indication that my dismissal by Pizza Pilgrims will be found to be unfair when we go to trial in the future. This process raises important questions as to the actual reason for my dismissal from Pizza Pilgrims, and whether it was in fact due to my trade union activities.”

At the London South Employment Tribunal, a judge heard an audio of an all staff emergency meeting called as a response to workers’ organising moves, where one of PP’s founders Thom Elliot disparaged Gray’s union activities and denigrated the role of unions. 

From the evidence put forward, the judge said there was a “high degree of animosity towards union activity” from the employer and that Gray was seen as a “ring leader” with a lot of hostility directed to him personally. The judge also noted Gray was  “made responsible for union activities… beyond his own actions”. The judge commented that, contrary to PP’s claims, the manner in which Gray undertook his trade union activities, was not “unreasonable, extraneous or malicious”. 

The judge quoted extensively from Elliot’s anti-union comments when delivering the judgement, such as: “What a union is going to do here is slow everything down to a crawl…We are not the company that wants to be slowed down”; “I don’t want something that divides our teams by site and within sites, and adds a layer of bureaucracy and nonsense between getting shit (sic) done and being the best company we can… is what I feel the union will do.;” They’re lying about us”;  “…he (Gray) lied to you to get there… and (they are) pressuring people to the point of sending people out in tears. To getting (sic) them to ask to leave the company because they can’t handle the pressure anymore… That level of pressure and bullying is going on” ; 

“…people are being lied to and being convinced to join when either (sic) they don’t understand…”; “We are not the bad guys… But they’re using you. To make us look like the bad guy.”; “What I don’t want is middle men who potentially don’t understand the situation and the bigger picture getting between us.”; “We’re no longer together. We’re us and them.”

The judge concluded her impression was that it was likely Gray was dismissed because of his union activities rather than the alleged manner in which he went on about them and as such granted him IR. She also stated that there was “high certainty” that Gray could prove in a final hearing that he had been unfairly sacked for his trade union activities.

Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW, said: “There is nothing more important to UVW than protecting our members’ right to organise for dignity, respect and power at work. This is a human right and we will never let employers take that right away from our members, particularly viscerally anti-union employers that so brazenly and unashamedly flout it like Pizza Pilgrims. And so we are standing by Ben’s side and fighting this in the courts and on the picket line if we need to.”

UVW is proud to have won Interim Relief for several members in the past in its continuous fight against vicious union busting. This includes strike leader Jake Marvin from the Saint James Tavern pub in Brighton, who won back pay and wages at the end of September, as well as recycling plant workers and warehouse workers in recent times. 

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