Legal rights, job quality, Brexit head up UK discussion
Legal rights, job quality, Brexit head up UK discussion
17 JULY 2017 7:19 AM

It is fair to say major changes have occurred in the United Kingdom in the last three years, with three issues—Brexit, university tuition fees and zero-hours/gig employment—likely to dominate the business and political landscape.

When politicians or commentators tell you that country X or Y is going through its most important, pivotal period in its history, I generally dismiss that as a lazy statement, but there is a strong argument in the United Kingdom that the last three years have been just that.

First, there was the September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, which did not happen. Then came the June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union that has not happened yet. Finally, there was the surprise result of the June 2017 general election, which did not happen in the way Prime Minister Theresa May believed it would. Each has had a profound effect on how the 65 million Brits view their place in their country, Europe and the world.

Hoteliers have had to square up to a manner of related challenges, too. Indecision is disadvantageous for business. Staff born outside of the U.K. have been understandably concerned about their statuses.

Three political hot potatoes have risen to the top of the pan of boiling water in the last month, all with direct implications to the hotel industry.

On 19 June, the U.K. started Brexit negotiations with the European Union, discussing the divorce arrangements of the U.K. going its own way. Both of the main U.K. political parties support Brexit, but inherent in these conversations—which will last for more than a year if not more—are all manner of coded signals that have so far not given any comfort to foreign hotel staff.

I voted to remain, so I am not just adding here as sour grapes that there has been increased murmuring from voices saying the U.K. will never succeed with Brexit, or at least not in the way it is envisioned now.

A core idea of the European Union is the free movement of member-country populations within fellow member countries.

Hoteliers should expect to have more conversations assuring their staff of their working and living rights, that is, if these valuable employees do not just say enough is enough and go somewhere else.

University tuition fees
The hotel industry is one in which a smile, empathy, hospitality, talent and a willingness to learn go far. The argument is that those who have these skills can go all the way to the very top after starting at the very bottom.

But education is good, too, right?

This is very topical. The most heated conversation after Brexit is the one on university education tuition charges. Recent newspaper reports suggest the average debt accrued by university students when they graduate is approximately £50,000 ($65,410) and includes hefty interest payments that will eventually increase when interest rates do, unless the economy forever stays hinged on a downturn.

Much play has been made that this average debt eclipses education costs at U.S. public universities, although certainly not private ones.

Tuition fees were introduced less than 20 years ago. Before that there was a charge, but a far smaller one. I did not pay anything for my undergraduate education.

The repayment of these loans is what imposes on hoteliers and the general economy. Learning is always deemed to be a good thing, but as no loans need to be repaid before employees earn £21,000 ($27,472) and £360 ($471) a year if earning between £25,000 ($32,705) and £30,000 (£39,246).

Is there a trap that talent will be lost to the hotel industry because employees will be fearful of earning above the starting salary in which loans need to start to be repaid? One would hope and guess that this would not be the case. Those who do not rise up the salary ladder rapidly and thus take longer repaying their loans will rack up more interest payments.

Less discernible income also means fewer hotel stays.

Gig economy
One side of the political spectrum trumps how many jobs have been created in the new Britain. The other side agrees with them but adds that many of those jobs have very little quality to them.

Some jobs indisputably belong to what is known as the gig economy and zero-hour economy. Some employees say they enjoy the flexibility of this system, while those wishing for an urgent overhaul of the employment rules say “employees” do not receive sick and vacation pay.

In zero-hours roles no work, and therefore no pay, is guaranteed, which makes a mockery of any claims to flexibility. If asked to work, you will, as you can only ensure being paid in this way and risk not being asked again.

According to a May 2017 report from the Office for National Statistics, “the hospitality industry employs 22% of the 905,000 (zero-hours) staff, amounting to 11.6% of its total workforce.”

Prime Minister May said last week she intended to improve rights for those working in this type of work, but gave no color as to what her changes would be, even if legislation would be produced.

According to one newspaper report, May “(implied) she may first go down a route of persuading business to change its practices voluntarily.”

Does that mean the hotel industry, among all others, needs to take a closer look at the issue?

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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