Tuesday, 6 May 2014

We are sick of low-wage local employers

“We are sick of works-shy locals” was the banner headline in the JEP (03.05.2014) front page with a story of two St Aubin restaurant owners lamenting the absence of a work ethic in the local labour force. It was also an opportunity to blame stubbornly high unemployment on a benefits dependency culture. This is all great ideological stuff but what are the real issues?

There is an inherent contradiction between the recently approved Interim Population Policy (P10/2014), designed to restrict migration to a net +325 and the interests of employers, keen to continue employing immigrants as a source of inexpensive labour.

It was to be expected that employers in hospitality, which requires large numbers of essentially seasonal staff, would start complaining once the screws were tightened. The Control of Housing and Work (Jersey) Law 2012 is being used to restrict employers’ recruitment licences and strip out excess capacity. In fact hospitality employers don’t want population controls, as a regular supply of readily exploitable labour is essential to their profitability.

Blaming locals and saying they don’t have the work ethic to work hard, is a way of disguising the fact that employers want a workforce that does not complain about poor treatment, low wages and long and often anti social hours.  Immigrants are certainly not lazy; were they so they would soon be fired.

Could it be that the local labour force is justified in not wanting to work for the low wages being offered that migrants from other EU countries are forced to accept? If employers paid better wages and treated their staff better, then locals might find their jobs more attractive and stay.

Murray’s and Mash!

One of the employers featured in the JEP article was Murray Norton the owner two St Aubin restaurants, Murray’s and Mash!. Mr Norton has recently found himself facing a number of claims through the Jersey Employment Tribunal by disgruntled Romanian staff complaining of poor employment practices and an arbitrary hire and fire culture.

For the sake of transparency, I would disclose that I have been advising a number of these Romanian staff and represented them in the Jersey Employment Tribunal.

The Breakfast Chef

The most recent case to reach the JET was of a chef from Murray’s suing for unpaid wages and holiday pay as well as notice pay after being summarily dismissed.  He was paid £7.50 per hour.

In the case of Brailescu v Murray’s Limited, Eduard Brailescu, a chef, was summarily dismissed in September 2013 after not turning up to a morning shift, even though he had contacted the employer the previous evening to give notice that he would be unable to attend. His reason for missing a shift was that his landlord required him to vacate his room and the new accommodation he was moving to that Friday evening suddenly fell through, obliging him to search again urgently. 

Mr Brailescu advised the Assistant Manager and his Saturday morning shift was easily covered by rearranging the work rota between the head chef and another chef. 

When Murray Norton and his wife, then on holiday in France, heard that their chef was missing a shift, they gave instructions to their Assistant Manager to fire him and immediately reemployed another chef who had worked for them previously, to start on Saturday afternoon.

When Mr Brailescu asked Mr and Mrs Norton for his month’s wages to the date of dismissal he was refused.

Mr Brailescu succeeded before the Tribunal this April only in respect a judgment for unpaid wages and holiday pay, which at the time of writing, remains unpaid by Murray’s.

The kitchen porter who overslept

In July 2013 a Romanian kitchen porter working at Mash! and earning the minimum wage of £6.53, overslept and missed his morning shift after his alarm failed to go off on a mobile with a flat battery. Having charged the phone, he rang to apologise and was told not to come in that evening, instead to attend the next morning. He did so and was summarily dismissed without notice. No wages for hours worked were paid or money in lieu of notice. The employee brought a case before JET for unpaid wages which was settled out of court.

The waitress

A Romanian waitress employed at Murray’s on a full time permanent contract of employment was put under pressure to sign a new short term contract that would have terminated at the end of the season. The waitress refused, but was given notice and dismissed on the same date as her proposed temporary contract would have ended.

The point here is not to single out an individual employer, as the treatment of immigrant staff in this fashion is not uncommon. Mr Norton no doubt has a different version of events. Word has it that employment relations have improved dramatically; new comprehensive contracts of employment have been issued and chefs now recieve a reasonable £10 per hour wage.

The myths

It is surely a myth that locals are all going to be taken off the unemployment register and fill vacancies in tourism. Would locals want to have seasonal jobs and then try to survive through to the next season? These types of jobs are never discussed at the level of government. What security should they expect to have, subject as they are to seasonal variations?

Immigrant workers are additionally vulnerable by virtue of their accommodation often being tied to their employment, living either on site or in lodging houses owned by the employer. Complain and one looses not only ones employment but also ones accommodation.

Locals, who know the score as to what the norms are and what is acceptable treatment, would not tolerate the hire and fire mentality of some employers. Immigrants by definition are the least connected and do not know to whom they might seek redress. When one is forced from necessity to work, then one is less likely to complain.

The Barman

As another story of recent injustice is that of an 18 year old Romanian working as a barman in St Helier Yacht club. One evening he had to endure 20 minutes of abuse from a drunk who he refused to serve on licensed premises. This was not the first time the drunk had behaved in this fashion. He happened to be a friend of the licence holder, whom he telephoned and complained. There may be no connection whatsoever, but a few days later the barman gets the sack for no apparent reason. This might have been a case for an unfair dismissal action, however the barman did not have the qualifying 26 weeks employment. He could be dismissed without notice, good or bad.

No doubt this blog will upset certain well connected individuals, however someone has to stand up to such poor employment practices.

“It’s a form of modern slavery” was the reaction of a Romanian bar person to whom I recounted these stories, of which she was all too familiar. Even so, this woman intends to own her own bar in Jersey very soon. She tells me business in Romania is too corrupt and arbitary to make a success. Who would criticise this sort of enterprising individual intent on improving themself ?


  1. its a shame that more of our so called elected reps do not take an interest in the Jersey Employment Tribunal and the cases that are heard there. That you have represented several aggrieved claimants is to be applauded. Who else will do this? I cannot imagine Senator Bailhache bothering himself with the injustices heaped upon employees but I have hardly ever seen any other Deputies, Senators or Constables even observing these public tribunals either - never mind being prepared to present a case or help a litigant in person.
    Bearing in mind that Discrimination complaints are due to be held before this Tribunal in the near future - besides the current Employment, Social Security and Safety hearings - its about time that more States Members showed some interest in the goings on behind the Ann Summers shop in Bath Street....

  2. All employment is slavery, but slavery to two masters the employer and the government who both take their share of the fruits of your labour before allowing you a pittance to subsist on. It is time for people to bring an end to the exploitative practise of employment.

  3. I am a young local who works in the hospitality industry for part-time seasonal work. I don't mind the hard work and low wage as where I work I am treated equally, my opinion is heard and they are perfectly okay with what I am able to do or not able to do. I work alongside migrants and they are great people who work just as hard.

    Last year I only worked the seasonal work as I just could not get into any other work at all over the winter. Being discriminated for not having experience for trainee roles and simple shelf stacking jobs just to keep me going. It was a serious struggle without any income, not even income support to pay my rent and my own way over winter with only around 3k earned. In a few places I applied for, I knew people on the inside. So when I was rejected I was curious as to who they employed, asking about them to contacts inside. Even in trainee positions and low requirement positions, they employed a migrant over a local.

    In my opinion it is employers who are shy of employing locals as they seem to have this idea that locals do not want to do the hard work for low pay. Of course, some people expect more, but in the end, the employer chooses the pay and you only really know whether the person can do the job if they are given a chance. Employers are making assumptions that because of a bad experience with a local, it means that every local is the same. From experience it's almost never the local backing down from a job because of low pay, otherwise why would they apply into the industry? It's expected. The employers always give a generic message that you have not been short-listed before even being interviewed the majority of the time. They don't want to take the chance, they want a safe bet and save money with cheap labour.

  4. And just who better to take up all these cases before election time!It is valiant of you to take up the cases of immigrant workers,however I don't see you involved in any cases with locals who are struggling/being fobbed off/dragged through the mills just to get Income support.

    1. I am flattered that you call it valour and there was me thinking it was just doing the job as it should be done.

  5. can you just not answer what anon has asked why do you not help struggling locals or is it a case of getting the immigrant vote.?

    1. Your xenophobia is showing. All workers need to unite and struggle for a better life.

  6. Xenophobia has got nothing to do with it.Many working class people are worried about the future and the future of their childen when there is no immigration controls and minimum wage that only benefits business owners.many people have seen a drop in wages over recent years because employers can chose from a never ending supply of cheap imported labour.Now its only right you stick up for those Romanian workers who have been sacked unfairly,but there are probably far more local people who have been displaced from employment because of unscrupolous employers and uncontrolled immigration.Its no wonder there is growing resent against these people,even though its not their fault,they are just looking for a better life.If the island was flooded with hundreds of Polish lawyers who were cheaper than you and put you out of a job then maybe you would see it in a different light.This is what local people in construction or retail have to deal and believe me our quality of life is diminishing rapidly.

  7. You write:

    "It’s no wonder there is growing resent[ment] against these people...", but why is there no resentment against employers, like the one mentioned?

    The problem is a system called capitalism. You might like to listen to Owen Jones on his forthcoming book "The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It"


    The Jersey Legal profession has a monopoly. They set their on exams and let in to the gentleman's club only those they want and who will conform. There are no Polish Lawyers lining up, but there are plenty of English Barristers and Solicitors who could have a go and for fees that would be affordable, were they permitted.

  8. A friend told me a story that he spoken to a well know restaurateur who was about to employ a new chef who had previously worked in a restaurant in St Aubin. He had been rung up by the former employer and told what a lousy cook he was and should not employ him. It turns out that this chef is best the well know restaurateur has ever had. Food for thought.