Food & Drink

South London bartenders group finds 80% of hospitality workers did not feel cared for by employers during Covid-19 crisis

Lottie Limb
August 21, 16.00

A south London bartenders group found that 80% of hospitality workers surveyed feared for their jobs because of miscommunication and a lack of concern from companies at the start of lockdown. 

South London Bartenders Network (SLBN) formed in March to offer mutual support as Covid-19 turned livelihoods upside down.

The group’s nationwide survey, which ran from the beginning of March to the end of April, shows the precarious position that many workers found themselves in, with 54.3% of respondents on a zero-hours contract.

Amardeep Dhillon, a 25-year-old bartender at the Ivy House in Peckham, said the idea for SLBN had been brewing for a while. “It came out of conversations about how there didn’t seem to be a space in south London for hospitality staff to actually hang out, like a support network.

“Then Covid-19 happened and that kind of put a spanner in the works, but it also galvanised us to try and get it off the ground.”

As branch secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union at the Ivy House, Amardeep brings a good deal of organising experience from working at London’s first community-owned pub

Hospitality staff generally run in the same circles, he said. And stories of mistreatment began circulating: of friends suddenly let go from jobs when pubs closed, before the government announced its furlough scheme.

A lack of financial support has been devastating for low-paid hospitality workers, leading to a surge in sacked hospitality staff sleeping rough. Of SLBN’s 46 respondents, 75.6% were not on an hourly living wage (£10.75 in London, £9.30 outside London).

Comments left on the questionnaire revealed poor health and safety measures in some establishments. One respondent said their manager brought in Dettol (disinfectant) and told staff to wash their hands with it. 

Conor McCarron, 30, a bartender in south east London, was at the park one day in June describing his struggle to get holiday pay while furloughed, when a friend mentioned SLBN.

Now an active member, Conor said: “One of the main things I really like about this group is that they can give you immediate steps to take, and validate decisions you have made.

“The emotional support of having people there to say you’re doing the right thing is quite valuable as well.”

Conor said the group has also been helpful in choosing which union to join, a move he feels is increasingly necessary as the UK economy enters recession.

“The next year is going to be particularly rough,” he said. “Come September, a whole bunch of people are going to get laid off, and from there it will be a real market for managers, which is never, ever good.”

The group also acknowledges the strain that managers are under. “We’re not looking at this like it’s a clear system of employers bad, employees good,” Amardeep said.

As well as facilitating workplace organising, the bartender and writer hopes the network will grow into a social space: 5-a-side football and music nights are on the horizon.

Speaking about the uncertainty of the past few months, Conor said: “For me personally it’s quite tough, I’m more of an extrovert, so being locked up for so long wasn’t great.

“I get a lot of satisfaction and joy from chatting to people and meeting them behind the bar.”

He added: “As a bartender I’m not on a lot of money, so when people try and chip into that it’s kind of scary.”

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