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26.10.2022 / News / Worker's Story /

UVW wants to make bosses pay for union busting

“All of us suffered in that workplace so to finally get some reparation is a big step up for both us as well as workers rights in hospitality”

Union busting is rife, but as workers we have ways to defeat it. We can fight back and make it costly for employers to do. The brave workers of the Saint James Tavern (SJT) pub in Brighton didn’t give up and fought for what is right. Here the pub workers and strikers tell you how they did it:

By Tris, Saint James Tavern striker.

The tactics, we workers at the Saint James Tavern (SJT) pub in Brighton viewed as blatant union busting by the owners, backfired. Their attempts were  met with our collective action and union resistance. A judge saw through this seemingly vindictive behaviour and ordered the pub’s bosses to continue to pay wages to us, four strikers and United Voices of the World (UVW) members, until the final hearing of our claim, because she considered that at the final hearing the Tribunal is likely to find that the reason we were sacked was our trade union activities. The judge issued what in legal terms is called an “Interim Relief” (IR) order in early October. Just a couple of weeks before, our fellow striker and former bar manager Jake had won his own application for IR too.

This means that the five of us will be each given a lump sum for the wages we would’ve earned at SJT between early summer and late October / early September had we not been fired. As well as this, we will all be paid our average monthly salary in full, every month, all the way until a final hearing on whether our dismissal was indeed unfair, which could be months and months ahead. This is provided that we don’t earn wages in another job in which case we are paid the difference in earnings between our average monthly wage at SJT and our new monthly wage.

In what can be described only as poetic irony, after having virulently rejected our demands for modest pay rises and other reasonable basic rights during the dispute, the SJT bosses will now have to continue to pay the salaries of former employees who are no longer working for them, as well as continuing to pay for stock, rent and current staff for the pub.

We made our case at the IR hearing and the judge agreed that we have a “pretty good chance of succeeding” in our claims, and that’s why she granted these provisional measures of assistance to us. Obviously we could still lose the case further down the road, but given what we know it seems pretty unlikely.

So how did we actually win Interim Relief?

None of us had really heard of IR before, maybe in passing conversations about possible outcomes, but felt almost mythical in the way it seemed so rare to actually win. The law demands that the workers prove that the reason they were dismissed is likely to be trade union victimisation, which we all thought we had proof of. A lot of it. My write up of events ended up being around 3000 words, while others like Lucy’s was closer to 4000! We had a group chat where we’d message incidents and events which became a timeline of sorts, although very messy. We had also collected other little trinkets like text screenshots and video recordings that served as proof of the bosses’ actions. Our job was to filter out all unnecessary details, flesh out other parts and try to make a legible, capable series of events which lead to what we thought was our unfair dismissal. Looking back at all these moments was rather distressing; All the times I felt humiliated and degraded while having to keep calm and not let my guard down. Writing this statement made me reflect on this previous year and how amazing and supportive our team and friends have been.

Judges are, upsettingly, rather reluctant to impose financial burdens onto employers unless they are absolutely convinced from the evidence that their motives for dismissal are likely to be found to have been illegal in the final hearing. Dismissing a worker for trade union activities most definitely falls under the banner of illegality. An order of IR can bankrupt a small business so judges tend to be cautious and when one does get ordered, we can be fairly sure that there was not a doubt in their mind: some form of union busting had likely taken place and that there is a fair chance it will be proven in the final hearing. Even the bosses realised they had no chance. After we had sent in all of our evidence, over 200 pages, they replied saying they wouldn’t contest our application for IR, and didn’t even turn up to the hearing.

To think these bosses could fire us easily and wash their hands of us is absolutely horrifying, and I’m almost certain that our case isn’t an isolated incident. Luckily, we had union support to guide us along, attempting to contact them via emails and phone calls (thanks Kate!). They appeared to be more than comfortable victimising my friends and colleagues for defending ourselves via a trade union, yet too scared to show up in court when we fight back. Was it guilt? Or laziness? Did they realise that they’ve dug themselves a hole so deep there’s no point even fighting it? Either way, they’ve only begun to witness the consequences of their actions.

“This win is not just a lesson to Saint James Tavern bosses, but to all bosses out there, – says UVW general secretary Petros Elia – that we’ll never let you get away with victimising any of our members and if you try we will fight back and we will beat you. Next time, don’t even bother trying.”

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