Zero tolerance for exploiting bosses

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Anti-exploitation group Better Than Zero has been making waves and giving bad bosses sleepless nights - find out how they've done it

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13th March 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

A Scottish campaigning group which has become the scourge of low-paying, exploitative bosses is planning to ramp up its efforts this year.

Better Than Zero is a grassroots activist group which seeks to call out exploitation by employers.

It deploys a range of direct action activities, including pickets and protests, as part of its drive to eradicate zero hour contracts and poverty pay.

It has had particular success in industries where the traditional trade union movement is under represented – the service and leisure industries in particular.

Last year it forced concessions from the G1 Group over the working conditions staff had to endure in some of Glasgow’s best-known night clubs.

Now staff will no longer be required to pay for their uniforms or training, will receive a contract before they begin working and will no longer suffer the docking of pay for marginal lateness.

Its most recent success came last month when the Mooboo Bubble Tea chain was targeted after it was revealed that trainees were being asked to do 40 hours of unpaid work before they could be considered for a job.

Better Than Zero got on the case and quickly forced the company to back down.

As well as direct action, the group is looking at a range of innovative ways of organising, and it recently launched an app which lets employees know which employers are paying the Scottish Living Wage.

So far it has been primarily Glasgow-based, but following its successes, its plans to focus on business across Scotland. 

TFN spoke to organiser Bryan Simpson about Better Than Zero – and he warned charities not to get complacent, or they could find themselves in the line of fire…

What is the Better Than Zero campaign and what are its aims? How did it start, what is its background?

Better than Zero is a grassroots campaign set-up by bar and restaurant workers who were sick and tired of zero-hours contracts and poverty wages within the hospitality industry and wanted to do something about those employers who refuse to treat their workers with the respect they deserve as well as provide a support mechanism for workers. 

Our aim is to provide hospitality and retail workers with the legal knowledge, organising skills and confidence to challenge unscrupulous employment practices and the companies that employ them. 

What methods and tactics does the campaign use?

We take direct action against the most exploitative employers in the country in order to raise awareness of the issues faced by precarious workers including low wages and contractual instability and to put pressure on the worst companies to improve conditions for their workers. 

Bryan Simpson

Bryan Simpson

What successes has the campaign had?

One of our first wins was against Las Iguanas restaurant which was making staff pay back 3% of all takings to managers, meaning that in some cases they were being docked more than 100% of their tips. We launched a petition and occupied their restaurant in Glasgow  – within 48 hours the company had changed their policy and now staff get all their tips. 

Our biggest win was with G1, which was not only the biggest hospitality employer in Scotland but one of the most exploitative. They had been fined by the HMRC in 2015 for failing to pay the minimum wage to some 2,800 staff and had a large proportion of staff on zero and low-hour contracts

Would – or has – Better Than Zero target charities if they were found to be exploiting workers?

We are willing to take action against any employer which exploits it's workers. We have had some reports of the use of zero-hours contracts from charities including some major household names. Watch this space…

Where does the campaign go from here?

Our newest campaign is against unpaid trial shifts. We are seeing an exponential growth in companies taking on staff for unpaid trials with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. One of the worst companies was MooBoo Bubble Tea, which was taking on staff at cafés up and down the country for 40 hours of unpaid training, letting them go and then repeating the process with other unsuspecting workers. We launched a campaign alongside 38 degrees. Within a week we had 35,000 signatures and the company were forced to change their policy. 

How can people get involved?

We have local meetings across the country from Aberdeen to Dumfries. To find out more please get in touch via our website, on facebook or on Twitter @betterthanzero.