Taking part in protests is not something I do a lot of in my grey years. Back in the day when the hair was both darker and thicker I did quite a bit of it but the passage of time erodes the passion if not always the conviction underlying it. I don’t resort to the excuse of having packed enough in during the years of the H-Block blanket protest to last me a life time and then some, but there is a lot to be said for the idea that taking to the streets is a young person’s game.
There is something childlike, although not childish, about chanting rhyming slogans at whatever it is that mightily piques us. When on raucous protests I usually opt to stay stum rather than howl whatever the day modern equivalent of Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh – we shall fight and we shall win, happens to be.
Often, bosses will behave badly without consciously appreciating it simply because they have inherited a behavioural trait of what they are doing has always been done. The ideology they see the world through conceals it from them. But there is nothing unconscious about tip theft, a wholly unconscionable act. It is not a spontaneous rush of blood to the head but requires a certain calculation to indulge in it: on a par with stealing from an Oxfam or SVP charity shop.
The Dublin Cabra councillor Cieran Perry invited us to take part. A reliable stalwart of the left and community activism his call for solidarity met with no resistance. Myself and Damien Keogh of the IWU put on hold whatever else we were planning, and agreed to turn up. Joan Collins has often raised the matter in the Dail and she too was in attendance at the protest. If there were other TDs they escaped my attention. They may simply have been busy in Louis Copeland's.
As it turned out, I arrived an hour early and decided to kill it by accompanying Damien to an exhibition in Temple Bar on the War of Independence. A most worthwhile venture that visitors to Dublin are well advised to check out. While there, do refrain from lunching at the Ivy. Boycott it on the grounds that it is simply not right to dine in a restaurant where the management steals the tips. A simple rule of thumb: don't tip your hat to the thieves who have also displayed a penchant for dismissing staff if they belong to a trade union.
The Ivy Restaurant is pocketing the tips that customers leave for the underpaid staff not the overpaid owners. As Fine Gael Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty previously wrote:
When a customer provides a tip after satisfactory service, they should know exactly where that money goes. And, ultimately, it should go to the employee.
Unfortunately, for all Doherty’s nice words, I learned while attending a Dail briefing on Thursday about an upcoming Joint Labour Committees Bill, that she is resolutely opposed to legislation that would ban the vile practice of tip theft. Even setting aside the boss instinct of Fine Gael, it seems amazing that anybody considers the sordid practice of tip theft legitimate. Despite the fine sentiment when she headed up the Low Pay Commission in 2017 it unanimously decided against outlawing the practice through legislation.
Despite its sleaze and slime, tip theft is more widespread than we might suspect and often the tips are used to pay the wages of the staff.
What the Ivy was doing is absolutely legal, but it is not what customers expect to happen to their service charge or tip. The Ivy, and other chains such as TGI Friday’s and the Hard Rock Cafe (where owners sucked up the 5 per cent service charge on all tables), may be an extreme, but they represent what appears, over months of research, to be common practice by some restaurants.
Less paid in wages means more accrued in profit. Joan Collins fleshed it out when telling the Dail:
I have been approached recently by workers in the new, swanky and expensive restaurant, The Ivy, where the company is taking the major proportion of tips paid to staff to make up the difference in their wages ... As an example, one worker signed a contract last October for €14.90 an hour. This person is now being paid €9.80 an hour, and the difference is being made up from the tips. This company is robbing the workers of their money.
The hospitality industry in Ireland is a shambles. The turnover rate of employees is high, and the bosses are always eager to exploit the transient nature of the workforce. Fluid and difficult to organise, it is a manager's market where the greedy are invariably first to the table for the tips. And the chutzpah of it all is that the managers accuse the workers of deplorable greed. A bit like the paedophile claiming the child raped him.
The tipping point beckons.