Food by VICE

UK Government Considers Banning Unpaid Trial Shifts in Restaurants and Bars

Scottish MP Stewart McDonald has called for an end to the practice that sees prospective employees perform test shifts with no payment.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
19 March 2018, 3:17pm

Photo via Flickr user Menno Abbink

You’ve moved back home after university and all you want is for someone to answer your graduate scheme application prayers and avoid a 14th viewing of “Best Yellowcard Moments Vid Championship League ‘92-95!” on YouTube. Desperate for any kind of employment, you give your CV to a local pub, and agree to an unpaid trial shift. You turn up, pull pints until 2 AM, then leave; £7 poorer from the Uber back home and exhausted. You never hear back from them.

Unpaid trial shifts may seem like an unfortunate reality for any poor 20-something looking for hospitality work, but MPs are now calling for the practice to be banned under criticism that it is exploitative. As reported by the BBC, Stewart McDonald, a Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow South, has tabled a private member bill to discuss banning the employment method, which can see prospective employees given nothing for hours of work. According to a memo on the SNP’s website, the bill has received support from the “Scottish TUC, employment law professionals, and campaigners,” as well as MPs Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party and Labour MP Ian Murray.

McDonald, who tabled the bill on Friday, told the BBC that along with perpetuating unpaid work, such shifts risked applicants “being asked to try out for jobs that don't exist.”

He continued: “Companies are just trying to cover staff absences in other parts of the business. This is about ending that exploitation and empowering applicants and making sure there is dignity throughout the process."

Currently, unpaid trial shifts are not illegal in the UK, and are used by large restaurant chains as well as independent businesses to test out potential employees. A spokesperson from Nando’s, which uses unpaid shifts as part of its employment process, told MUNCHIES: “As part of the job selection process, and to help candidates decide if working at Nando’s is for them, we invite potential team members to shadow a member of the team during a four-hour trial shift in a restaurant.”

“While these trials are unpaid,” they said, “we will always offer a meal at the end of the shift while also giving the candidate feedback so they understand the reasoning behind a manager’s decisions.”

A staff member from Mughead Coffee, a small coffee shop in South East London, told us that they offer “one-hour trial shifts in place of an interview.” They reasoned that “a six-hour trial shift is a bit extreme without pay,” but that “a one-hour trial shift replaces a sit-down interview.”

However, many young people with experience of unpaid trial shifts in the hospitality industry feel that the practice should be banned. Bertie Darél from London worked for free on a test shift at a bar in Bristol during university.

“I did a shift from nine ’til four in the morning, unpaid,” he said. “I then had to hang around afterwards while the floor was mopped. I got a £15 cab home as obviously, the busses weren't running. Combined with the shirt and black trousers I should've bought, it amounted to about £35.”

“They offered me the job but I couldn't believe they weren't gonna pay me for the trial shift, so I turned it down,” he continued. “I do think they're exploitative and should definitely be banned.”

Now that McDonald has chaired the bill, at least 100 MPs will need to turn up to vote it through Parliament.

Fully automated luxury communism, anyone?