A qualitative investigation into the experiences of workers in the hospitality sector in Scotland

Chapter Two: Experiences of hours and pay

This chapter explores experiences of hours and pay among a sample of hospitality workers in Scotland. It begins with a worker story that introduces many of the key themes explored throughout the chapter. The following sections explore the views and perspectives of our sample of hospitality workers, first on their hours and working arrangements, and second on their pay. The chapter also includes three further worker stories.

The themes explored in this chapter address issues relating in particular to the security of workers – one of the five dimensions of fair work as outlined in the Fair Work Convention's Framework.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Timea

Nationality: Hungarian

Age: 48

Work History: Worked in a secondary school in Hungary. In Scotland, has worked for a decade in hospitality, mainly as a chef.

Residency: EU settled status, Currently lived in a hotel's staff accommodation in a rural location

Takeaway: Has experienced a range of difficult experiences in the industry, including: working long hours that were detrimental to her health and family life; illegal work practices; low pay; racism and sexism; workplace injuries due to poor working practices; and living in tied and unsuitable accommodation in rural areas.

Tímea moved from Hungary to Scotland in 2012. In Hungary she had been working as a receptionist in a secondary school although, following her divorce from her husband, she decided that her job prospects would be significantly better in the UK than in Hungary. In her words: "I couldn't see any way to maintain myself and support my children on a Hungarian wage."

On arrival in Scotland, Tímea quickly found a job as a cleaner, working largely in restaurants during the night-time, often finishing at around 4am in the morning. At this point, she spoke little English and felt that cleaning work was the only option available to her due to her limited language. In her interview with us, she described the work as "really hard" and "really underpaid", which made her feel "under pressure". She also shared a room with a fellow cleaner, a Romanian woman, which she found difficult given the lack of space and privacy. This job was on a zero-hours contract, although the majority of her jobs since have been on full-time contracts. After a short period, she moved to a small town in a rural area, taking up a job as a housekeeper in a small hotel, where she also started helping out in the kitchen. This was the start of Tímea's work in kitchens, which she has been doing ever since, albeit often alongside other duties.

After 18 months in this hotel, Tímea moved to England to work as a commis chef in a gastro pub in Reading, which she enjoyed. She described this experience as the first time that she began to experience a "passion" for cooking. However, still being paid minimum wage, she found herself unable to afford rent in Reading. She returned to Scotland, taking up a job in a hotel in a remote location in north-eastern Scotland. Here she worked as a commis chef, a housekeeper, a waitress, and a receptionist, depending on the day in question. She described working long hours in this hotel, without much time off. In the summer season in particular, she would work 13 days in a row, for 12 hours a day, before having one day off and starting another 13 days of work. She described some weeks where she was working over 100 hours a week. She said she was paid a fixed salary for this work, which meant that – if broken down by the hour – she was being paid well-under minimum wage.

Tímea then started a new relationship with a man who lived and worked on an island, resulting in her moving and finding a job there. She worked first for a small venue, where she experienced sexual harassment from the head chef.

She told us:

"I was working there for three weeks and the actual head chef there he was sexually trying to harass me and because he had my number, because he was the head chef, he started to send inappropriate messages as well and it was… I needed to block him and leave the place."

After quickly leaving this job, she obtained a job as a chef in a local venue. She worked here for almost two years, leaving only when she realised that her employer was not paying her adequate holiday pay. She told us that, in total, he held back almost £2000 in holiday pay over the course of her employment. With the help of her next employer, whom she reported as kind and a good friend, she went to ACAS with nine other employees from the golf club and she ended up receiving a settlement of over £1000.

Tímea described this as a "very bad experience" that damaged her confidence in employers in the industry. She told us that, at first, she thought that this employer had felt at liberty to exploit her in this manner because she was a "foreigner". She later changed her view on this when she learned that other employees – who were not migrants – had also not been paid. However, she noted that her employer had originally tried to distract from his actions by trying to convince her that she had misunderstood Scottish law and employment practice. She told us that "at the beginning he acted like, how can I put this, like I'm stupid because…I'm not from here and I know nothing about how holiday payments work." She continued that "thankfully I knew who was the accountant and…she was very nice and kind and she told me everything about how holiday pay works which I already knew but I needed some encouragement."

It was also during this time that Tímea's relationship with her partner broke down and she had to move out of her partner's flat. While he had been born and raised on the island, she found herself unable to find affordable accommodation. In her words, the island "literally lives on tourism and so I wasn't able to find one single [place to live], not even like a room share, nothing". For this reason, she decided to return to the hotel where she had previously worked, given that she had a good relationship with the employer. She worked in the kitchen and doing housekeeping again, although this time she also took on a second job doing chef work at a small guesthouse, working three nights a week. She described sentiments of guilt about this job: she said it was "not the right thing to do" and "her only black job in the UK", as she was paid in cash that she did not declare.

After a period, she began a new relationship with a man and moved to Edinburgh, where she was still based when we interviewed her. Her first job in the city was in a restaurant that primarily served fried chicken dishes. She was paid a pound above minimum wage, which she described as "already better than any time before". However, she found the working conditions there physically stressful and ultimately untenable, leading her to hand in her notice after only a week. Despite leaving after a week, she told us that she still struggled with pain in her wrists due to the injuries she incurred during this week:

"They put me on the fryers for four days, for 12 hours, with no break. There were three double fryers and five or six kilo of chicken wings needed to be fried, they were very, very heavy and after four days my wrists were thick as my whole underarm because it was so swollen and I barely could move my fingers and I have struggled with my wrists since… it was without breaks and it was extremely hot but it was kind of in a corner with barely any ventilation and a wall from one corner, a shelf behind me and the fryer's in front of me, so there was only one way out….It was physically very hard, I couldn't breathe after a certain time because it was too warm, you didn't get any fresh air. I didn't have food."

Tímea told us that she had had fairly similar experiences with a lack of breaks in her other jobs in the hospitality industry: "I got, kind of, sometimes [got breaks], not every day. But no one ever said to me, okay, you need to go for your break now because you [have been too long] working already".

Following the chicken restaurant, Tímea took a job as a chef in another gastro pub, where she was paid only in cash. After three weeks, she asked for a proper contract and wage, to which the employer flatly refused. Tímea explained to us that she was unwilling to accept this, especially as she now had considerable experience of how demanding chef work could be. In her words "I want a pension for my old age. It's a demanding job, you're going to get sick after a while, you are not able to stand in the kitchen for 12 hours and [stay well]."

Again, Tímea found it very easy to find another chef job, this time in a hotel an hour's drive from Edinburgh. She considered herself lucky to have found this job so quickly, as only a few months later the pandemic hit and she was able to receive furlough. However, after around 12 months, the hotel started to downsize due to losses incurred during the pandemic and Tímea was made redundant. Her employer notified her of her redundancy but kept her on furlough for another three months while Tímea looked for another job.

Her next job was also relatively short-lived: she described this job as "13 hours a day, five days a week and the break was, well, either you work it or not, depending on how much preparation you had done". She described the sous-chef as an alcoholic who regularly did not turn up to work, leaving the place understaffed. Interestingly, she added that, in her observation, drugs and alcohol misuse was a frequent problem among kitchen staff as it's "the way they cope" with the stress of cheffing. Things came to a head for Tímea when the head chef was on holiday, the sous-chef had failed to turn up to work, and the agency staff hired by the management were not working to a high standard, leading the kitchen to "fall apart", as Tímea described it. She said the management expected Tímea to manage the whole kitchen almost alone, which she felt unable to do, leading her to hand in her notice.

This last job was at the beginning of 2022. When we interviewed Tímea in May 2022, she had recently started a new job as a sous chef in a hotel, although she had been promised the opportunity for a promotion to head chef within the year when the existing chef was planning to retire. Her feelings about her current job were relatively mixed: her salary was much better than previous minimum wage jobs and, if she was promoted to head chef, she would receive a salary of £32,000 a year. However, she still worked 65-70 hours a week, which she found physically extremely tiring. While she said that she "still likes cooking", she wondered how long she would be able to maintain this level of physical exhaustion as she approached her 50th birthday. She told us:

"It's very demanding and stressful and I already feel…it's not good for me. It affects my sleep [because] I start as breakfast chef at 6 o'clock in the morning and I finish at 10 o'clock at night time. I've put weight on, even though I eat less, because I eat at night-time, and I'm starving and I have to eat. I can't really exercise because I have five hours to sleep or six hours to sleep at night."

Moreover, this job was a two-hour drive away from Edinburgh. The journey was too long to do every day so she was living in staff accommodation in the hotel. However, this was a single room, meaning that her son – who was now 18 and lived in Scotland – could not spend his university holidays with her. It also meant that she lived away from her partner. However, she reported that local accommodation was not an option, as it was a relatively remote, tourist location where accommodation was expensive and in short supply.

Finally, Tímea also told us that she had experienced "racism [and] sexism very often" in the hospitality industry. She gave the example of a former boss who was unable to remember her name properly and so chose instead to call her "Friday" after a famous slave character from the novel Robinson Crusoe. She also said that this same employer "made jokes at our expense" if she or her colleagues made errors in their spoken or written English. Indeed, she felt that she had often experienced discrimination based on her accent or language capacity: in her words, "people kind of think you are stupid". She also felt that kitchens were often sexist places, as she described: "they're male operated, they really are: if you are a woman and work in a kitchen, they'd really make you feel like you are less than the men in many places. I needed to fight a lot of times because of that."

For all these reasons, Tímea felt concerned about carrying on working in the hospitality industry. However, she felt that with her experience and continued progression over the years, it was the best option for her financially. She had considered working in an office, or in retail, but believed that it was unlikely she could get a job at a similar wage.

2.1. Hours and working arrangements

The following sections explore experiences of hours and working arrangements among our sample of hospitality workers. It shows how many of the workers we interviewed, particularly students and those with jobs in other industries, value the flexibility afforded to them by working in the hospitality sector. At the same time, this flexibility has come with significant trade-offs for these workers, namely, an inability to predict or control when or how much they will be working. These uncertainties – which we also refer to as 'precarious working conditions' – have created various forms of financial, personal and social hardship in the lives of many of the hospitality workers in our study.

By comparison, later sections explore the experiences of those hospitality workers who work more predictable and secure hours but who report frequently working long and/or anti-social hours, often without adequate remuneration.

The following sections also include three further worker stories, which in various ways exemplify these problems of precarity on one hand, and of over-work on the other: these are the stories of Vicki, Jamie and Mike.

2.1.1 Precarious work in the hospitality industry

Vicki's and Jamie's stories, described in the two worker stories below, illustrate a number of issues that we found to be common experiences among many of the hospitality workers that we interviewed. In relation to zero-hours contracts, both stories show how such contracts can make it hard for workers to generate a predictable, dependable income and, moreover, they can make it hard for people to make social arrangements, thus having a detrimental impact on their personal and social well-being. They also show how working anti-social hours, even when these hours are predictable, can make it hard for hospitality workers to spend time with family and friends. They can also impact physical and mental health, particularly by causing chronic tiredness. These findings are all explored in more depth in subsequent sections.

Vicki's story additionally illustrates themes taken up in later sections and chapters, such as issues around pay, as well as the challenges faced by those working in rural locations.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Vicki

Age: 28

Nationality: Australia

Residency: Holds a work visa. Lives in a small town with partner and daughter in Perthshire.

Work History: Worked in Australia as a manager in hospitality. In Scotland, she has worked as waitress, receptionist, and bartender.

Takeaway: Vicki has enjoyed working in hospitality over the years but has found the hours, stress, and responsibility of her work difficult to manage alongside her family responsibilities, in particular as she has struggled to find affordable childcare in her rural area.

Vicki, a 28 year old woman, moved from Australia to Scotland in 2019 to a small town in a rural area to join her partner who worked in a five-star hotel there. In Australia, she had worked as a restaurant manager for several years. On arrival in Scotland, she found it fairly easy to get a job in the same hotel as her partner, working first as a waitress and then as a receptionist. When this hotel was sold, she was made redundant although both she and her partner found similar jobs in another hotel. Shortly afterwards, the pandemic hit and she was furloughed for almost a year. During this time, she also fell pregnant and gave birth to her daughter. When her daughter was around six months old, she returned to work in the hotel although she was ultimately unable to come to a suitable arrangement on hours with her employer – an experience that she found difficult, as explored below. She left the hotel and found a job as a bartender in a local bar, where she was still working when we interviewed her in May 2022.

Vicki told us that she enjoyed working in the bar: she liked the social interaction with regular customers and also what she described as the "creative" side of her work, particularly writing the cocktail menus and mixing the drinks. At the same time, however, she told us that she was considering leaving the hospitality industry and instead finding an office job, perhaps in Human Resources. Her main concerns about working in hospitality were the hours and particularly the impact on her well-being and family life of working anti-social and often unpredictable hours. She also felt that she was being underpaid and that the work was physically very demanding.

While she had held a full-time contract in the first hotel she worked in, her second hotel job came with a zero-hours contract, meaning that there was a great variation in the number of hours she worked each week, depending on the needs of the hotel and on her availability. She told us that some weeks she only worked one day a week, while other weeks she would work four or five days a week. She told us that this was manageable only because she could rely on her partner's income:

"It was just like a zero-hour contract and my hours went like, they were really up and down, they just slotted me in whenever I could work, because [my partner] and I worked at the same hotel again. It was very up and down, and they put me on, one week was like four or five days and then one week was one day…[but] we weren't relying on me doing a certain number of hours luckily, we could just rely on [my partner's] wages and then whatever I got was a bonus."

Vicki had hoped that this zero-hours contract would come with some advantages after her baby was born, not only because this contract seemed to offer flexibility but because the hotel initially agreed to schedule her only when her partner was not working. Vicki told us that this was essential for them, as there was no affordable childcare available in the town where they lived – a town of around 2500 people, centred around the tourist industry. However, working such unpredictable and variable hours made it difficult to plan a social life and to spend time with her partner, as she explained:

"It was hard, because yes, like I said, they sort of like balanced it for both of us, obviously, so that we weren't working at the same time, but then it was like we didn't see each other a lot, it was like passing ships, because if one was home, the other was working all the time. There wasn't a set routine, so, that was quite hard and it was hard to organise going to see [my partner's] family in Edinburgh, which is a couple of hours drive…So, it was quite difficult and my social life, basically didn't exist, because it was really hard to make plans."

Moreover, shortly after returning to work from maternity leave, her employer started to request that she work more hours than she was able to. Even though she was on a zero-hours contract, they said they needed someone who could commit to more hours, and who had the flexibility to work whenever they needed, even if these times changed each week. This was impossible for Vicki, given her partner's working hours and her childcare commitments, leaving her with little option but to leave her job. She told us that she found this upsetting, especially as her employer had initially promised her the flexibility she required.

It did not take long for Vicki to find her current job in the local bar. Here she was on a part-time contract, working approximately 20 hours a week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, typically from around 5pm until closing time. She told us that closing time varies, however, between 10pm and midnight, depending on how busy the bar is. She reported being paid fairly and accurately, by the hour. When asked about how she felt about her current hours, she told us that while she appreciated being able to work when her partner was at home with her daughter, she found working nights difficult, as it was tiring and left her little time for her family:

"I am happy with [my hours but]…it has taken a toll, the only day off my partner and I have together is a Sunday, that's our only full day off together and then he's got to work the next morning, so, it is a bit of a struggle with that and also I think finishing so late, I didn't realise how much it would affect me, because by the time I get home and unwind, it's sort of like, I might not go to sleep until about two and then [my daughter] is up at six. So, normally [my partner] gets up with her, but I still obviously wake up and then it wastes a bit of the day, you can't really spend the whole day together, because I'm just a zombie. So, I don't think I really thought that through before I got back into bar work to be honest. [So yes] definitely, lack of sleep, tiredness and probably like, obviously, family time as well [is what is difficult]."

Vicki is paid £10 per hour in her current job while she had been paid £9.50 in her previous work at the hotels. She did not think these wages were particularly fair, given her experience and training as a manager in Australia. Moreover, in her current job in the bar, she was performing the role of a manager, despite not being paid accordingly:

"When I first got the job, there was someone else that was in charge, who has since left, and that's why I've taken over everything. [It's] not really what I signed up for at first…. just by default, I've ended up running it, I write the menus, I train new staff, I do the cash up, I open and close, and I lock up and everything but I'm not technically, I don't have the role of a manager."

She also explained how she found this added responsibility stressful at times, and that it had restricted her ability to take time off:

"When I was first going, I thought oh well it's just a job, I can just go, do my job, come home, that's it, whereas now it's like a lot of, I'm doing a lot of thinking about work, outside of work, which is not really what I wanted to do. So, I think it has put a bit of stress on me as well, like, I haven't been able to take certain days off, like on the weekends, because literally, like when we hired someone else, they had hardly any experience. So, I felt like, well I can't take a day off, I can't leave this other person, because they don't even know how to make a cocktail. So, I think that was a big thing.

I [take stuff home] like, the stock, thinking about making sure we've got enough stock in and thinking about what needs to be made for the cocktails, because we make syrups and things like that. There have been times where I make them at home, in my own kitchen. Like rosemary syrup for example or sugar syrup or whatever… just making sure that…the right fruit is getting ordered for us, yes, and thinking about if we've opened a bottle of wine on the weekend, it's only going to be good for four days. So, I have to tell the people in the café, if you don't sell it by Wednesday, or Thursday, take it off the shelf and all things like that. Which, for the first couple of months, I never had to worry about, because there was someone else that was in charge."

We asked Vicki if she had asked for a pay rise: she replied that she had not because she felt uncomfortable asking the bar owner, with whom she reported having a good relationship – like "good friends", in Vicki's words. This woman was currently experiencing personal difficulties and Vicki did not feel able to ask for a raise.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Jamie

Age: 38

Nationality: UK

Residency: Lives in Glasgow

Work History: Worked as security guard/bouncer for over 15 years

Takeaway: Jamie likes security work but has recently taken a permanent job as an assistant porter in the NHS due to the financial and social difficulties of working anti-social hours and on zero-hours contract in the hospitality sector.

Jamie, a 38-year-old man living in Glasgow, had worked full-time as a security guard for over 15 years, largely in nightclubs, bars, pubs, and music festivals. He used to work for what he described as a "big company" although he now works for a small agency, run by a man with whom he reported having a very good relationship. He has almost always worked on a zero-hours contract but is much happier with this current employer, whom he felt did not exploit the terms of this type of arrangement.

Indeed, he emphasised to us how previous companies had threatened to not give him work if he refused to take on hours when offered:

"I've worked for big companies years ago and when you tried to say no they weren't happy with it, even though you're on a zero hours contract… they force your hand….and say well then I'll just not give you any more hours or I won't phone you if anything comes in, so I stopped working for big companies.. now I let my guy know whether I've got something on or I've got my [daughter] and he'll get it covered."

Moreover, around two years ago, Jamie secured a job on the NHS as an assistant porter. He now works around 25 hours a week on a permanent contract with the NHS, and then approximately two weekends a month doing security. In our interview, he spoke several times about his preference for this arrangement, primarily because of the security provided by the permanent job in the NHS. In particular, he appreciated receiving sick and holiday pay on the NHS, and the fact he was now saving for a pension. He also felt that he was less over-worked than he had been in the past now that he had the security of the monthly income from the NHS. He described to us how he used to work 50-60 hours a week without time off in order to make ends meet, and how he still observes similar forms of over-work and precarity among co-workers in the industry:

"I'd do retail security and then I'd do the doors at the weekends, so some days it was seven days a week…I did that for a long time. shopping centre hours were like eight hour shifts so that would've been forty hours a week, and the doors minimal ten hours at the weekends. ..[I see now] people that don't have a permanent job they're having to work for two and three different companies just to make up their hours…"

Jamie was also grateful that now, due to the NHS job, he did not have to work every weekend, which he had found a challenge due to its impacts on his social life:

"You sometimes get sick of it, you get sick of it every weekend, doing the weekends. [It was good] when I got the job in the NHS and I got to choose I didn't have to do [the security work] every weekend, I could just do it as and when. I'm starting to enjoy my weekends more now.....You see, before I got the job with the NHS, I was working every weekend literally, a couple of days during the week and then working every weekend and that's why I got the NHS job [so] I didn't have to work [every] weekend.. [because] if you're doing the door, it's kind of like. [if you're] going to the football with your mates because you start your door at seven, they're all getting drunk and you have to be sober to go to work."

For all these reasons, Jamie told us that he hoped to pursue further progression in his NHS job and to stop the security work altogether within the next five to ten years. He also told us that while he had greatly enjoyed working in hospitality over the years, he felt that security work was better suited to a younger person, given the often physically- and mentally-demanding nature of the job.

2.1.2. Valuing flexibility

Many of our participants talked about valuing the flexibility afforded to them by working in the hospitality industry. This was particularly the case with students, who reported being able to fit shifts in around their study schedules. Those on zero-hours contracts also reported being able to vary the amount of work they took on depending on their university commitments.

To give one example, Alistair, a 20-year-old man studying for an undergraduate engineering degree in Edinburgh, had worked in events catering for four years, working shifts as a waiter at large events such as football games. He used an app-based agency to apply for shifts, allowing him to choose when he did and did not want to work. He also reported never feeling pressured to take on work that he did not want, in contrast to many of our participants (see below). Alistair tended to work relatively few shifts when big university assignments were due and then seek out longer-term contracts during the summer holidays – a common pattern among the students that we interviewed. Alistair also identified the flexibility of the work as the key reason for working in hospitality over other jobs:

"That's the main good thing about it, you can just do it when you want… It allows me to plan my week around, or plan my shifts around my life, because yes, work is important, but I wanted to make sure I can fit everything in as well."

Alistair, 20, undergraduate student and waiter in events catering, Edinburgh

Flexible working was also important to those undertaking further training or studies within the hospitality sector. For example, we interviewed two chefs – Alek and Benci – who were studying hospitality management and cooking respectively. In these instances, the capacity to work flexibly was important in facilitating their broader progression ambitions in the industry.

In addition to students, we spoke to several people who used hospitality work to supplement income from a full-time job in another sector. These people also valued flexibility – and zero-hours contracts in particular – as this allowed them to work selected evenings and weekends, depending on their availability. For example, one participant, Neil, used an app to apply for weekend shifts doing events catering work, which he did alongside a full-time administrative job in the weekdays. He described this sort of zero-hours hospitality work as the best option for him, given his full-time job and his caring responsibilities for his two young children:

"You know it's either [this catering work or] go and get a job say at Audi or Morrison's where I have got fixed hours. At least with [app work] I have got flexibility, especially having children. I had to cancel a couple of shifts when [my son] came with chickenpox. But as long as you give them 24 hours' notice it was like yeah sure, no problem."

Neil, 38, full-time administrator and part-time waiter for events catering company, Glasgow

Neil's emphasis here on the need for flexibility as a parent with young children was also raised by a few other research participants. As described in the worker story in section 2.1.1, for example, this was a concern for Vicki, who worked evenings as a bartender as she did not have childcare in the daytime. Similarly, Megan, a kitchen runner in a restaurant, had a similar arrangement:

"It's actually really good because my husband works daytime. So, when he gets in, he then takes over the kids and I get to go to work. So, there is always somewhere here for children. [Otherwise] we would have to try and find childcare."

Megan, 32, kitchen runner, small town in the Highlands

To give a final example, Caroline, a 64-year old woman who worked as a bartender in a local golf club in Perthshire, told us that she left her job in the oil and gas industry to take up part-time work in the hospitality industry precisely because she required greater flexibility in order to help her son – a single parent – care for his young children. She worked weekends and evenings and cared for the children in the daytime.

2.1.3. The limitations of flexibility

While many of our participants valued flexibility, these same participants also spoke to us at length about the limitations of this flexibility, as well as the trade-offs that could come with increased flexibility. Participants identified three major disadvantages of increased flexibility: first, the experience of feeling pressured to accept unwanted hours; second, financial insecurity; and third, personal and social insecurity. While the latter two issues applied to people both on zero-hours and other types of contracts, the first issue applied almost exclusively to people on zero-hours contracts, as the next section explores. Feeling pressured to work

Zero-hours contracts were seen by many of our participants, although by no means all, as a sort of 'false promise'. This was because while these contracts offered flexibility in theory, hospitality workers often felt under intense pressure to accept unwanted hours and to be available at all hours of the week. Ironically, therefore, the demand for flexibility by employers often turned out to be prohibitive for those workers seeking flexibility. In the above case study, for example, we saw how Vicki was forced to leave her job entirely because she required flexibility as the mother of a young child, while her employer demanded her to be at least potentially available at all times.

Other participants expressed concerns that they had to accept unwanted work in order to ensure that they could obtain more work in the future. For example, Alek, a 35-year old man, had moved from Poland to Glasgow five years ago and had been working as a chef ever since. He had held full-time contracts in the past but currently worked for an agency on a zero-hours contract, being sent to different restaurants, often on a weekly basis (for Alek's full story, see section 2.2) He described how he found it hard to refuse shifts because he worried that he would then be unable to get work in the future:

"It sounds like you have freedom but in the end of the day…you cannot just say 'okay this week I am not going to take [any shifts], but the next week I [will]' because then you're not going to have a job because you should have taken that job you had…and maybe in the next week everyone actually took everything and you don't have anything."

Alek, 35, chef, Glasgow

The extent to which participants felt pressured to accept unwanted hours varied, however, depending on the nature of the employer and the venue in question. For example, those who used app-based agencies to do events catering work generally reported that it was easy to refuse to take on extra hours, given that the onus was on the worker to apply for shifts as desired. However, those who worked in a single venue, such as cafes, bars, and restaurants, were more likely to report being reluctant to refuse shifts in case it affected their relationship with their employer or their future hours. Crucially, most of these participants identified staff shortages as a key reason for employers asking them to do extra shifts.

It is important to note that the pressure to take on extra hours could present a real challenge to hospitality workers who were trying to manage other responsibilities. For example, consider the case of Lily who worked in a Thai restaurant as a waitress alongside her undergraduate degree, having moved from Hong Kong to the UK a few years ago to study. She described to us how she relied on her income from her waitressing job in order to complete her studies, which she described as her priority. However, during periods of COVID-19 restrictions in particular, she was frequently asked at the last minute to take on extra shifts due to staff shortages. She reported that she found this extra work stressful, particularly as it affected her capacity to complete her studies.

"I think last year was especially difficult at times…we had a hard time hiring enough staff…that could be quite stressful and I had to kind of change one or two things with my studies because I couldn't get the time off…. I couldn't get enough energy, for example, if I needed to work…longer…I couldn't meet the deadlines or things like that. I feel very stressed…because when you sign up for the semester you kind of have to show up and do certain work and show that to your supervisor and other things. I really failed to do that on the days I worked full time or had to cover other people's shifts or when they were short staffed, I get quite stressed out."

Lily told us that, ultimately, she found it easier to ask her university for extensions to deadlines, than to tell her employer that she was unable to work, given her concerns about losing her job:

"I [accepted the work] as I don't know if I will get fired or not in that moment…I thought that maybe a bit easier to talk about with my university… luckily, where I do my studies they're quite flexible so we can talk about the kind of delay, take a break from the studies during that time or get an extension for my assignment…. it's easier to tell them that I can't get time off, explaining to my university feels a little bit maybe less stressful than telling my employer that I want to do my study."

Lily, 26, undergraduate student and part-time waitress in a Thai restaurant, Edinburgh Financial insecurity

Many of the hospitality workers in our sample saw financial insecurity as one of the primary disadvantages of flexible work. Indeed, while many of our participants found that they were offered more work than they could manage, others frequently struggled to get the number of hours they required. For example, Alistair, an undergraduate student who worked in events catering, applied for shifts using an app-based agency. He reported never feeling pressured to take on extra work but, at the same time, he was increasingly finding that he was not getting enough work. Recently he found that, unable to pay his rent as a result of this lack of shifts, he had to move back to his family home earlier than anticipated:

"Because everyone has finished exams, the company has, we apply for shifts on an app, but they're quite full at the moment, so we get put on the waiting list for everything. That's the bad part of it for the moment, like, throughout uni when I wanted to do the shift in the week, it was fine, but now that everyone has finished their exams, and they're free for the summer, it's clogged up, which is a shame… I probably would have stayed on an extra month at my flat at the moment, but because the shifts are lacking…I just decided I'd probably have to move home a month earlier than I thought."

Interestingly, Alistair further reported feeling unable to join additional agencies, as he worried this would jeopardise his relationship with his current employer:

"I think the head of this agency would be annoyed, because they do cover the same events, so, if you were to say work for the other company, for that event, they maybe would get a bit annoyed. I have heard that he does get a bit annoyed that you're switching between the two or whatever."

Alistair, 20, undergraduate student and part-time waiter in events catering, Edinburgh

It is noteworthy that many of those workers who reported being content with the financial uncertainty of zero-hours contracts emphasised that they saw this contentment as either temporary or conditional on other circumstances. For example, those people who had a full-time job in another sector all stated that they would not wish to rely on zero-hours work in the hospitality sector as their primary income. This was both because they found that having a variable income made it hard to make longer-term financial plans but also because of the lack of additional benefits they perceived with these contracts, such as the lack of holiday pay, sick pay, and pensions. Some participants also highlighted how the loss of work during the COVID-19 pandemic had made them more aware of the uncertainties of working in the hospitality sector (see Chapter Seven).

Similarly, other participants reported that zero-hours work was acceptable for them as long as they, firstly, required flexibility above financial security and, secondly, as long as they could depend on income from other sources. Some participants relied on their partner's income, as stated for example by Vicki (see the worker story above). Others relied on income from student loans or other family members. As the following further examples suggest, however, participants expressed hesitation about relying on zero-hours contract if these circumstances were to change:

"While I was at uni [and had my loans], it was great to have a zero-hour contract, it just allowed me to have that flexibility, kind of on the whole, just like when I wanted more hours, I could have more hours, when I couldn't do more hours, it would be fine. Whereas now, I think I do kind of want that security and that regular income. So, I would prefer to do that now.'

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and barista in a coffee shop, Edinburgh

'I quite like that it's quite flexible and I have quite a lot of freedom to choose what hours I want, so [with my studies] I wouldn't want to be tied to kind of like, a very strict schedule, but at the same time…, I get quite a lot of financial support from my family, so, I am not really worried about the financial side of the things…. If it was to be my permanent job, I don't think that can happen that way, obviously, it doesn't give me enough income to be able to live, especially given the increase in the living costs now. So, it's just temporary."

Maria, 38, barista in coffee shop, St Andrews

As a final point, we found that while workers on zero-hours contracts were particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity, some participants on part-time contracts also struggled to get the hours that they wished, therefore experiencing financial hardship. For example, Hannah, a 23-year old woman, had recently started a new job as a bar tender in a pub in Glasgow (for more on Hannah's experiences at work, see section 3.5). She had previously worked in a late-night bar, the sister venue of this pub, although she found working late nights detrimental to her mental health. When she was transferred over to work in the pub, she was given a part-time contract for 12 hours but was assured by the owner that she would have a minimum of 30 hours a week. However, she now frequently found that she was getting under 20 hours of work a week due to a lack of custom in the pub. She reported struggling financially as a result:

"The pub has been really quiet recently, pretty dead and the owner actively cuts hours if it's really quiet. You know, so… I am supposed to be a full time member of staff but I am pretty much a part time member of staff….Moving from the last place to this place within like the company…one of the main things of me moving is like one of the key factors would be a guaranteed 30 hours at least. But that's not happening, and it is just like well what do I do... Recently it's a bit better but just for some weeks it was just like barely 12 or 20 hours and it is just like, I can't afford this."

Hannah, 23, bartender, Glasgow Social and personal insecurity

Many of our participants reported that working flexible and unpredictable hours resulted in experiences of social and personal insecurity, that is, an inability to plan or invest time for meaningful social relationships and activities outside work. These issues affected workers both on part-time contracts and on zero-hours contracts, although they were more likely to affect those on zero-hours contracts. Our research participants identified two primary reasons for these forms of insecurity, first, the unpredictability of their working hours; and second, the need to work anti-social hours, namely weekends and evenings.

Unpredictable hours and locations

Many of the participants that we interviewed reported having hours that varied significantly from week to week. They received a rota on a weekly or fortnightly basis and found that the days and times that they worked could vary significantly depending on a number of factors, such as staff shortages or absences, and events. Many also reported experiencing sudden last-minute changes to their hours, such as being asked to work with less than 24-hour notice or being sent home early from a shift due to a lack of custom. Several of our participants also reported variable closing times in their venues, depending on levels of customers, meaning that they often did not know exactly when they would finish work. The following quotes illustrate some participants' experiences of uncertain hours, as well as the frustrations associated with them:

"This is not good, you can't plan anything, you don't know what your hours are, this is quite complicated. If you have fixed hours, you can plan tomorrow, I have to do this, I can do it, but if you don't have fixed hours, this is more complicated."

Birodh, 30, chef, Stirling

"I think, especially during uni time, it's okay, because a lot of people like friends and family they have time around that, that you can kind of find a time to meet up and do things, but I think it is difficult, because you can't really plan anything really, unless it's like a holiday and you have to plan that in, you have to make sure that they're okay with it, which does make it difficult just to keep on a normal life routine, which is the thing."

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and barista in café, Edinburgh

"Other stuff that I don't like, it's the fact that they can change, you could just cover shifts at the last minute. Well, you kind of have a choice, but you don't at the same time, you know that if you're not going to do it, who is going to do it? They call you, well, you can cancel, but you can get called in at the last minute and I don't really like that, maybe sometimes I have plans that I have already made and stuff like that. So, that's a bit, I don't think that's quite professional, isn't it, but I guess it is happening in most places [during COVID] it was happening every two weeks or so…I think it's the night before in most cases."

Maria, 38, barista in coffee shop, St Andrews

"I think it's nice to have flexibility, that will be a massive advantage. I think, you know, it's not a nine to five job, and when it comes to the kids they do give me time off to go to sports day or go to certain things and I can bring the kids to work sometimes as a last resort if one of them is ill I can just put them on the sofa and they can watch a movie while I can do some work, so flexibility, that aspect is brilliant. But the disadvantages I suppose, being on this strange contract is that I need to … like I don't get paid, and I can't plan, sometimes you can't plan in advance in having those weekends off, just I guess impacting family life, I guess that's the disadvantage of it."

Jessica, 38, wine-bar manager, Glasgow

The following quotes relate specifically to variable closing times, and the frustrations that these can create for workers, who cannot predict exactly when they will finish work:

"I am contracted 16 hours. But I fluctuate depending on obviously what length of time we are opened until… My shift is supposed to be from 5pm until 9pm but it all comes down to when the customers leave. We don't generally chase them. We let them leave at their own leisure. So, recently it has been from 5pm until say 10pm."

Megan, 32, kitchen runner, small town in the Highlands

"The worst thing [about today] was…how we couldn't get people to leave, we had events on today and …the event ran over... Even after the events were done, people wouldn't get out and they…had a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They were just relatively rude to us when we were like, hey, like your meetings already ran over and we need you guys to leave because the staff need to get into cleaning and such and there is a lot of back and forth with people saying stuff, like all. 'There's nothing on in this room after their meeting, so why should we leave?' And it's a lack of consideration for hospitality staff and the fact that we have home lives and social circles and things we want to do after work, like we don't just live to work. And I think that's often forgotten about by a lot of members of public when they go out somewhere. Like my life is not my job and I need you to just leave. "

Amy, 24, event worker through app, Aberdeen

As a final point, it is worth noting that we also spoke to two participants who reported unexpected changes in their working locations. In the case of one woman, Lutsi, this had occurred when she had been transferred to another coffee shop in the same company without any discussion or a notice period, something that she had found very difficult. In another example, Daniel, a hotel receptionist, reported that he was frequently requested at the last minute to work in another hotel owned by the same company, on the other side of the city. He was often only given a few days' notice that he would be working elsewhere. This was typically due to staff shortages in the other hotel. Daniel reported finding this unpredictability unsettling, as he never felt entirely sure where he would be working each day.

Anti-social hours

Many of the hospitality workers that we interviewed described the detrimental personal and social impacts of working anti-social hours as a major drawback of working in the hospitality sector, even if it afforded them the flexibility to study or work other jobs. This was the case for Vicki, for example, who reported feeling exhausted and having little time to spend with her family as a result of working in the evenings while also caring for her daughter in the daytime (see case-study in section 2.1.1).

In another example, Daniel, a 55-year old hotel receptionist living in Glasgow, worked nightshifts, which he found lonely and often boring, a problem that was exacerbated by the fact he always worked alone. This differed to his previous hotel where two people always worked the nightshift together – an arrangement he greatly preferred, also for reasons for safety. Daniel told us that working nightshifts left him feeling chronically tired and more prone to making mistakes at work:

"I think you can put a person on night shifts too many because it will affect your work because you are not effective. If you are so many nights you won't be effective and you will do a lot of mistakes. … Especially if you are too tired and you can't get real sleep it affects your work because you're not as correct, you have to check everything several times that you do it correctly and that is affecting quite a lot, especially if you do a lot of night shifts then you feel like I want to sleep now."

It also meant he struggled to plan a social life:

"I don't feel I have outside life because when I come home in the morning I sleep.... And then I have to go back. Because when you finish at seven in the morning, it takes me about 50 minutes to go home but then you don't go to sleep directly because you can't get to sleep directly because you've been outside and you have to wait and then when you suddenly fall asleep okay now it is almost five or six o'clock in the evening, you have to eat and then you have to go back to work…: I feel like I am more in work than I am seeing my friends. I don't really see my friends. Of course it affects you a lot, it affects you and especially when you get older it affects you even more. When you are younger you can do whatever you [want] because when I was young I could work several hours and still see my friends and do that but when you get older you need your sleep… The problem is when you have day off, one day goes to sleeping."

Daniel, 55, hotel receptionist, Glasgow

Daniel typically works seven nightshifts in a row, and then has two days off, although he reported that during times of staff shortages he has worked as many as 13 night shifts in a row. When he asked to do four shifts on, two off, like he had done in his previous job, his employer refused: he told us that, "they said if you don't like your hours you know where the door is".

Ana, a waitress and housekeeping supervisor, also described her experience of working nightshifts to us in a previous job:

"I'm not working with them anymore because the nightshifts are really hard to work, you don't sleep, you feel awful during the day, so I changed to a [new job]."

Ana, 36, housekeeper and waitress in hotel, Edinburgh (interview translated from Spanish to English)

In another example, Hannah, a bartender, had recently moved jobs so as to reduce the number of nightshifts she worked. She described the impacts of working nightshifts to us, particularly on her mental health:

"It was good for a while but like three and a half years of doing total night shifts it does things to you, like not seeing daylight and yes just like not, it's like the day light is a big thing. Especially in winter it really affects your mental health. Waking up in darkness and going to sleep in darkness and just not seeing any daylight, it is just like ahh.., like be really unmotivated and lacking energy and just like seasonal affective depressive disorder. And yes just like not nice."

Hannah, 23, bartender, Glasgow

Benci, who worked late evenings in addition to completing a full-time vocational course (SQV) in cooking, told us how his work patterns led him to feeling tired and that he did not have enough time to spend with his children:

"My mental health it's a little bit less, because I couldn't sleep well… I arrive home late at night, and I need to wake up early [for the kids]…Also I try to, spend my time with my kids, if I can and make them precious times. But it's not enough, not enough, so, and I can see them, it's affecting them, about their emotional feelings. But luckily, Sophia, is so lucky, my wife she is working at home, she's an Engineer, IT Developer, and can care about our kids."

Benci, 52, chef, small town in south-west Scotland

Finally, many hospitality workers also complained about working weekends because of the impact that it had on their social and family lives:

"We don't have time off at the weekends, because hospitality restaurants, it's more busy at the weekends, so, we don't have time for friends and family… I tried one time [to talk] with [my manager] but he told me, week days we're not busy, so he tells me it's not too busy and we are busy at the weekends, so we can't have time off at the weekend."

Birodh, 30, chef, Stirling

"Obviously, the negatives [of the job] is just having to work weekends… I don't like having to work every weekend, obviously that's the needs of the business…You know you just feel because you are starting at five o'clock, so if you were to be out and about during the day you have to cut off whatever you are doing by about mid-afternoon, you need to go home and get ready to get to work….So it is just the fact that say if I wanted to go away over night or whatever, because it is always principally a Friday/Saturday you know basically you know you can't get away. It is just purely impacting your social life."

Julie, 57, full-time administrator and front-of house at take-away restaurant, Glasgow

2.1.4 Experiences of over-work

Some of the hospitality workers in our study complained less of unpredictability and uncertainty in their work, and more of working excessively long, often unpaid, hours, without suitable breaks during or between shifts. The following section provides a general overview of the problem of over-work and is then followed by two worker stories – Alek and Mike – that provide in-depth examples of some of these issues. Over-work in the hospitality sector

Many of the hospitality workers that we interviewed complained of working long hours that had detrimental impacts on their physical, social and emotional lives. In some cases, long hours were the result of people working multiple jobs at once, typically on zero-hours contracts, as was the case with Jamie for example (see worker story in section 2.1.1).

In other cases, long hours were the product of staff shortages or managerial responsibilities, as illustrated respectively in the below quotes:

"At first…when we opened the venue, it was pretty labour intensive, I think I was doing like 70 hours a week, because we were trying to get the ground up and running… So, I'd work 9 until 7 every day…for 14 days in a row…so, it was crazy…. Then they were, oh, you'll get those hours back, obviously that's not transpired [yet], which isn't a very good…thing. But they said I will get them back, or I'll get holidays back in lieu…I think [it will happen]. I've had a couple of days…when it's been quiet, they've been like take a day off."

Tom, 35, assistant manager in a café in a tourist venue, Edinburgh

"The working hours [are] very hard because this company I work for they have you work many night shifts in a row and not very many off and it is very hard. One time I worked like 13 nights in a row and had two nights off and that is too much… it was just after the pandemic finished. And lots of people after being furloughed didn't come back you know so, because uncertainty of [the virus] coming back again."

Daniel, 55, hotel receptionist, Glasgow

'Usually I do more than 40 hours…all the time something unexpected happens, and I have to stay more in the hotel here, when I think I have to work, until one o'clock, something has happened, the General Manager comes to say to do something more, more hours, things like that, and it's just I have to go and do it, because anyway, they pay for every single hour. Even for every single minute, if I stay like that, yes, they pay for every single minute actually…all the time I work more than 40 hours, it's happened [that I] have, between 50 and 60 hours for every single week."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

In the case of Andrei, working long hours had contributed to problems with his studies, which he told us were a greater priority for him than his work as a housekeeping supervisor. He had failed to complete a year of study due to his long hours:

"It's the last year, yes, but I didn't, actually, I didn't finish already this year, I've been busy with the work at the same time, and I had many exams to pass…this is just about the timing, I didn't have enough time to study, this is why it's hard."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

Crucially, we found that the problem of over-work could be particularly acute for those on full-time contracts, who also often reported working unpaid overtime. Indeed, among those who had worked for many decades in the hospitality industry, there was often a view that long hours were simply an expected and inevitable part of the job. To give an example: Tony had worked in the hospitality industry for several decades, primarily as a restaurant manager. He recently took a job outside of hospitality following a knee injury and what he described as a loss of confidence following his injury and operation. He told us that he sometimes felt that he had worked "half his life for nothing" as he had always worked over 80 hours a week, while being paid on a 40-hours contract, although he considered this to be normal for the industry. He felt that ultimately his lack of work/life balance had contributed to the breakdown of his marriage:

"[My ex-wife] worked in hospitality, and the two of us separated ... In 2006 she went to work, but she was working in [retail]. So, sometimes I was coming in from work and I was making her breakfast, and she was going to work. So, we used to joke about it: 'We should probably just get a single bed, because we're never in it together.' So ... I'd say, over the years I've missed out on a lot of things."

Tony, 54, restaurant manager, Glasgow

In another example, Malcolm, a 72-year old man who had ran a pub for several decades with his wife before moving into freelance work as a temporary hotel manager, currently worked 80-hour weeks, albeit only for certain months of the year:

"We don't actually count hours half the time, to be honest with you. If you counted hours you'd put your stuff in the car and drive home. You just do whatever's required…I mean, you could be up there over seven days and maybe doing 90 hours.... that's just the way the industry is. The problem is, we've been in this trade quite a long time now, and we accept that that's part and parcel of this business. They're trying to get youngsters in nowadays, trying to do these jobs on a 40–hour or 48–hour contract, and it doesn't work…What we tend to do is work in blocks, kind of thing, and then take a block off."

Malcolm, 72, freelance hotel manager, the Borders

István, a head barista in a coffee shop, told us that his long shifts led him to feeling tired although he was happier in his current job than in his previous job because overtime was at least optional:

"It's a 40 hours contract, and there is opportunity to do some more overtime [but] it's not mandatory, and that's the best part of it. Because my previous employer, I have to get overtime and obviously it was paid, but they never asked me do you want to do this or not? Anyway, so yeah, I'm happy with this, and now I just work four days a week, and it's possible that that means ten hours a day, which I find quite tiring at times."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

By comparison, Lizzie described to us how she and her partner had left their previous jobs in a holiday camp because they felt over-worked. Central among her complaints was that she and partner worked too long hours and, moreover, could not get the same day off, so they rarely spent time together or had time to go and visit family. When they applied for their new jobs in a hotel resort on an island – Lizzie as a waitress and her partner as a chef – they accepted the job only on the guarantee that they could get the same day off:

"[In my last job] for about seven months, I didn't have a weekend off from September to probably about March, we were just overworked, wages weren't that great, because of the cost of living has gone up, we've got a dog and we're just too tired. I never went round to see my mum, on my days off because [they were never the same as my partner's] it was just horrible. Because [my partner] doesn't drive, I'd be going up there to drop him off and pick him up…so, I never got a rest because I'd still be there on my days off. We never had the same days off, just never got a rest ever, did we? [When we got the new job] we did say when we had our interview like, we told them about [our last job] and I was like, it's a deal breaker for us, [having the same day off]."

Lizzie, 23, waitress, hotel resort on island

It is noteworthy that Lizzie's current work in the hotel had entailed a cut in pay and responsibility in comparison to her past job, where she had been a supervisor. However, she stated that this was preferable for her if she could spend time with her partner and, moreover, she was paid by the hour, meaning that she would not have to work unpaid overtime anymore (see Chapter Eight for Lizzie's worker story).

This sentiment that more insecurity and less responsibility could, in fact, be preferable to the over-work entailed in management positions and full-time contracts was echoed by two other participants: Alek, whose story is explored in the second half of this chapter, and Mike, whose experiences are described in the section below. Taken together, these experiences raise questions about how experiences of over-work may present a barrier to possibilities for progression in the industry.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Mike

Age: 44

Nationality: Scottish

Work History: Hotel manager

Takeaway: After several decades as a manager in hotels, Mike experienced depression and burnout due to working long hours and the pressure of managerial responsibilities. He currently works on a zero-hours contract as a bartender while considering whether to return to managerial work.

Mike, a 44-year-old man, has worked in hospitality for two decades, primarily as a manager in restaurants and hotels. He recently gave up this managerial work, however, following an episode of burn-out and depression – something that he linked, among other things, to the stress he had experienced in the hospitality industry. He was currently working on zero-hours contracts as a bartender in a pub and in a local golf club near Dundee while he decided whether to return to managerial roles.

Mike's longest stretch of employment had been as a manager in a luxury hotel in the Highlands, where he had worked for over ten years, primarily running events within the hotel. He described to us how this involved long hours, which did not involve being paid overtime. He saw these hours partly as a product of being in a managerial role, and partly as the result of doing a job that revolved around the needs of the customer:

"I very rarely worked almost anywhere less than 55 hours a week in a management or a supervisory role…. working in [management] you're heavily reliant on your teams, and if your teams aren't performing or don't turn up or sickness, ultimately the buck stops with you, and it's your responsibility, and there's an expectation on you to be able to do that.

There were weeks where I was doing over 70, over 80 hours and consecutively in those, I think there was one week I did over 80 hours, two weeks in a row, at [the hotel].

The other thing about doing the events side of the business, is that because they're all hotel residents generally, it is their house, so, technically is there an end time? So, I would keep my event going, so that the guests were looked after and had the best time. Then of course, the longer the night goes on, the less staff I have to do the close down and the tidy up. So, it elongates everything more, because some of my staff are maybe working breakfast in the morning or have been working since 12 o'clock in the afternoon. So, that in itself, becomes a challenge, because you try to look after people to the best of your ability, [but] it has a double knock-on effect on you."

Mike also described how he had always worked different hours each week, making it very hard for him to make social plans:

"[The rota] changed every week, because the business changed every week… because as soon as you've got a request in the diary for someone or somebody off on holiday, then the rota changes..[and] if you're in the hotel environment and you have events on and corporate dos and things, because bearing in mind, corporate dos would be mid-week [but then] weddings and private events more at the weekend, but then you don't have corporate dos over the summer holidays. Corporate stuff finishes over the summer and it's more leisure things. So, you're adapting to what the requirements and the expectations of the business are, all the time, your rota was never ever the same, one week to the next, never .[It affects your social life] hugely, because you can never, you can't plan, I wouldn't know if I was working on a Sunday until Thursday afternoon."

Mike described to us how he left this hotel eventually after a disagreement with his employer about his long hours – a dispute that he described as a precipitating factor in the deterioration of his mental health. The dispute had centred around the hotel's promise to provide people with 'time off in lieu' when they worked extra days beyond their contract. Given that he frequently worked a six-day week but was contracted for five days, Mike calculated that he was due 15 days back from his employer. He described to us what happened when he raised this with his employer:

"So then I raised it to the line manager, I was then told really there wasn't much we could do, I said, 'Look, I just want my time back'. 'Well we don't have the staff to give you the time back.' I said, 'Well try and pay me for it then.' Then…there was a big discussion, I ended up going up to director level, director of food and beverage, the director of HR and I ended up in a meeting with them about it. I said, 'Look, I understand we don't have enough staff, I understand how busy we are,' because you see the weekly and monthly figures coming through, so, you know where you are in terms of your budget, you know where you are in terms of your headcount. I said, 'I give everything I can' I said, 'But I do want to be treated fairly.'.. But it was made clear that there was no way the business could sustain me getting 15 days back."

Mike described how eventually the hotel agreed to pay him for the extra 15 days, although Mike felt that the dispute resulted in him being "blacklisted" within the hotel, hampering any further progression. He also noted that the hotel promised to give him days back in the future, if he claimed them within the month, although this never happened:

"They were quite aggressive and I would say a wee bit bullying towards it. They agreed to pay me my 15 days, I was then told that the discussion and the outcome of the discussion does not leave the room, because they know they were doing the wrong thing."

"I'm the only person that is putting my head above the parapet, and ultimately, I got paid my 15 days, [and] I was told that if I worked an extra day I had to get that extra day back, within the month. That never happened either, because they didn't have the availability of staff to be able to do that. It certainly hampered any further progression for me at the hotel, because that was me sort of blacklisted, in terms of any forward movement, there was no way I was moving forward after that, because I wasn't a yes man. So, ultimately, after a wee while, I then decided to seek other opportunities. [I said] I wanted a bit of time off, and to look at other things, but I was actually suffering from depression."

It is worth noting that Mike saw some of the problems that he had experienced as specific to the prestigious and therefore high-pressure nature of this hotel, as opposed to a problem that applied to the entire hospitality industry in general. For example, he told us:

"I must point out that I ran a local hotel, ten bedrooms, busy restaurant, whiskey bar for six years, and I had consistency in my life, I was off every Sunday, every Wednesday and I was able to…recruit and build the right team, but again, I was looking to challenge myself, and so we took the business to a good level, but I then wanted a fresh challenge, as people do. On hindsight, would I rather I was still there? Perhaps, but you move on."

Mike now worked on a zero-hours contracts in a local pub and in a local golf club, which he stated had the advantage of allowing him to control his time, have a better social life, and not to work unpaid overtime:

"I think my work life balance is better now, for example, if I'm in the pub, and my shift is meant to finish at nine o'clock or ten o'clock and then my shift finishes at that time, I go home. I can arrange to meet people after work, I can arrange to you know, do something before, without the feeling that I might get called in because they're short staffed or too busy. If I do like, let's say for example, I'm meant to finish at ten, and they say, Mike, it's really busy, is there any chance you could stay on for half an hour or an hour? I have the ability now to say yes or no, that I never had before. So, yes, I'm getting paid less money, but I'm in more control of my own life. I'm in a position where I'm not married, no kids or anything, so, the financial expectation or burden on me, is not as great as it is for other people. So, I don't necessarily need as much money as I needed before, that people at my age, might need. So, I have that ability but I suppose, part of the reason that I've not found that family life, is largely work related as well."

Mike noted how he was frequently offered managerial jobs by former colleagues and contacts, although he was hesitant to take anything on, because of his negative experiences in the past:

"I'm very careful and protective of what I do. I get phone calls probably once every couple of weeks, wanting, asking me to come and speak about certain roles and positions, and I'm like, no. Recently, I got approached from a local hotel and asked me if I would go in, on about fifty percent more money than generally I'm on between the two places [currently], I'm like, no, because I know what comes with it. Despite even, despite what they say on the cover, I know the reality will be very different. So, I'm not prepared at the moment, to put myself back in that position."

2.2. Experiences of pay

The following sections explore experiences of pay among our sample of hospitality workers. First, it tells the story of Alek. We have chosen to tell Alek's story in depth because his experiences speak to some of the more troubling issues around pay in the hospitality sector. While many of our research participants reported basically good experiences with their employers when it came to pay, others had had similar experiences to those of Alek, albeit often to a lesser degree.

The following sections look at how hospitality workers evaluated the fairness of their pay. It suggests that those who were felt unhappy with their pay typically did so because they felt that their skill-set, experience, or level of responsibility were not reflected in their level of pay. Subsequent sections explore experiences of tips and other benefits, uncertainties around holiday pay, and experiences of inaccuracies in pay.

Alek came to Scotland in 2018 from Poland. When he arrived in Scotland, he already had considerable experience as a chef which he had obtained both in Poland and in other European countries, allowing him to find a job quickly in a restaurant in Glasgow. He had worked in a number of different hotels and restaurants since then, although when we interviewed him, he had recently quit his last sous-chef job and was working for an agency on a zero-hours contract while looking for another permanent position. He was also studying full-time for a diploma in hospitality management at a higher education college, which he explained to us was an important step for his longer-term ambitions of opening his own restaurant.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Alek

Age: 35

Nationality: Polish

Residency: EU Settled Status

Work History: Chef

Takeaway: Alek has experienced illegal and unfair practices multiple times in the hospitality industry over the last decade, which he links to being a migrant. He feels strongly that his experiences have improved as he has learnt to advocate for himself and to be vigilant for unscrupulous employers.

In our interview, Alek spoke in depth about the poor and often exploitative workplace practices that he had experienced in the hospitality industry in Scotland. He described overwork, and low and unfair pay, as endemic to the industry and he cited this as the primary reason for why he left his most recent permanent position:

"I was doing the head chef position actually so I was doing the orders, I was doing the trainings, all the management things you know you need to do at the kitchen, it was actually on my head so I was doing all that stuff but they were paying me for [a lower position] So yes it was very unfair because I was doing the majority of the jobs there and I should get paid like at least £16, £15 an hour and they were paying me just £10 an hour which was very weak. Just I am not a quitter and I promised to help them so I was keeping and keeping and keeping and then they asked me if I want to be a manager of the restaurant and I said but the way you were treating me before, now asking me to be a manager so you want me to do more things and pay probably what more. Oh we gonna pay you more. How much? Oh £2 more. I was like what? On top of the cheffing. So after that conversation I said guys really I quit because that is too much, you know like how you treat the people and how you expect from people to work is unbelievable you know."

Alek told us that he did want to find a permanent position again in the future, given that such jobs came with benefits that agency work did not, such as holiday pay and pensions. Moreover, he noted that it could be stressful moving so regularly between kitchens, as you had to constantly adapt to new menus and working practices in very short spaces of time. However, he noted that there were advantages to zero-hours work, namely that he is never expected to work without being paid:

"[With agency work] you start from ten and you finish at ten, you don't stay longer. Usually [with a] kitchen, if you are on the contract, you should finish at ten, [but] you still need to clean the kitchen, still need to finish things you didn't finish because of the service and you need to finish them because tomorrow you have [a] function…Usually if you are on the contract then they don't pay for it...So I do all that [extra work] and they don't pay for it. [But with] the agency, I just finish at ten and that's it, because my contract is from ten to ten, I finish."

In addition to experiences of working unpaid overtime, Alek described to us past experiences in various jobs of not being paid accurately, not being paid a fair share of tips, not receiving sick pay, and experiencing unexpected deductions to his pay:

"At the beginning they were deducting things like [saying] some customers were unhappy, like a huge charge. It's not a fault of the kitchen or the restaurant, it's the fault of the management because they did something wrong, they explained things wrong and then the customers were unhappy from the beginning so they were trying to put the fault on everyone, just not the management and then like get the pay slip and you see like minus £40 and you're like what the … why?... So [usually] they take like from the service charge. Because they cannot take from the salary.

[Also] once I was sick for two days and they should pay the sick days yes, but they never did… And they actually minus £80. And it was like whoa, so what I didn't get my monthly pay and you just took minus £90 because I didn't appear at work because I was at sick and I actually got the papers from the doctor."

The most substantial deduction he had ever experienced was over £1000 when he crashed the company car while running a kitchen errand – something that he attributed to tiredness given he had worked 340 hours that month:

"Yes, even if you are overtired because you are working 240 hours last month and then you get tired you know and then you just feel sick because of too many hours you do….. I remember the time I was doing 340 hours a month…. Then I need to drive somewhere [to pick up supplies for the restaurant] and I was so tired that I didn't notice that something is behind me and it was the company car so they charged me for the repairs…. And that was the time I was doing this 340 hours a month so I was doing 16 hours a day with no day off for a month….then they still took from my salary £1,000."

Crucially, a central narrative running throughout Alek's account of his experiences was that he had been more vulnerable to exploitation because he was a migrant and because, initially, he did not speak good English. He believed that employers purposefully selected migrants for kitchen work, as they were less likely to know their rights and more likely to accept poor conditions:

"They use the people from other countries to say 'you need to do [this]' and they [just accept it] and then they say 'we are going to pay you' but they never pay you for that…Especially when I was working for the [luxury hotel] and even now when I speak with friends and they say yes it was a bit abuse of Polish people because they mostly hire people from Poland because they realise they work hard and we don't ask, you know, we are going to work for free just because we work there and we want that job you know."

When reflecting on his own attitude in his early days in Scotland, he emphasised how not speaking the language affected his confidence and his ability to reject poor conditions:

"It's hard to explain, you are not fine and feel… like you're not from here and even if you want to answer you [are] scared to answer because of how you speak. You know like it sounds very silly or you don't know the words, you know when you're going to say something it sounds silly… Language is a huge barrier you know… I was like forced to [do] everything they were asking me for."

Alek also recounted experiences of witnessing similar dynamics of exploitation among other hospitality workers:

"I worked for [this restaurant] and…they were hiring, they didn't like the people who knew how the hospitality worked so they never hire anyone from Scotland. Always were hiring people from outside. And they always were looking for someone who don't have a huge experience….then they started to hire people from India and then it was very like very, very bad, like they didn't pay them for like three months…and they were still working there because their culture, you know, they're going to stay until they get paid, [then eventually] they get paid and they still stay there because they were happy they get paid you know. And it is like oh my god, so hard to even explain to those people that it is not how [it should be] just find another job."

However, Alek also repeatedly emphasised that his attitude had changed over the years and that now he felt confident to seek out and accept only fair pay and conditions. He stated that was a product of his increased experience in the industry, his good language skills, and his studies in hospitality management. Indeed, he told us that his experiences of poor conditions had been a key motivating factor in undertaking the studies, as he wanted to understand how to improve his own situation and also how to do things differently when he opened his own restaurant one day:

"I decide to study because I learned that you need to know the law, you need to know how things are working from inside. So I just quit and decided to educate myself and be more confident not to just listen to people and believe everything they say you know."

He described to us how, in various ways, he now ensured his working conditions were fair:

"I am quite aggressive with the pay and I don't accept the low pay. But they always try to pay you as low as you can. Then you say no, no, no... Right now they don't even try…because of [my] education and because of 15 years in hospitality and because of how I speak with them. I think I am more confident….So when they say they going to pay you, I will say 'okay so let's sign the contract that you're going to pay me, right now, you know?' I don't believe you know, I am not going to work for free, you can fire me, it's fine but you cannot fire me actually because I actually do everything and you need to have reason to fire me… I know how to protect myself now.

I always now ask for signed things. I always ask for it and say okay [if] it's a service charge please make a contract up I am going to get paid for every single service charge. And… I want to see how much the customers paid so I know how much we should get paid and I can actually you know get the money to people if they try to be cheeky you know…. Next week Monday I go for trial shift for two hours. It's more I want to check the company…not the company want to check you…. [I want to check] how they treat the people, how they speak to the people, if they paid the extras they promised they're going to pay."

Despite Alek's increased confidence and experience in the industry, it is noteworthy that he was hesitant to take on a job as head chef – he noted that this was primarily because he felt the extra responsibility, work and pressure was not worth the likely remuneration.

"Yes, I am mostly sous chef, I don't want to take a head chef position because that's almost same money and heck much more work to do…It's like £3,000 more a year but then you do twice as much…the £3,000 I can earn in my free time, [but] the head chef going to do the paperwork".

Instead, therefore, Alek was continuing with his intention to complete his studies while working as a sous-chef in the hope of opening his own restaurant in the near future.

2.2.1 Perspectives on pay

The majority of our participants were paid the minimum wage or a little above the minimum wage. The exceptions here were some of the more experienced chefs, and restaurant and hotel managers, who were more likely to receive both a higher rate of pay, and to receive this in the form of an annual salary rather than an hourly rate. However, this latter group of hospitality workers were just as likely – if not more likely – to see their wage as inadequate, primarily because of the numbers of hours they worked on such salaries. Several of these workers commented, for example, that – in real terms – they were paid below the minimum wage, given the extent of their hours.

Among those paid at minimum wage or a little above, participants expressed different views on the fairness of their pay. Many expressed a basic acceptance of their pay, stating that it was the norm in the hospitality industry and that it was adequate for their needs. Students and those who saw their jobs either as temporary or as secondary to their primary incomes were particularly likely to express these sentiments of acceptance.

Several of our participants, however, saw their wages as unfair. This was typically because they felt they were using skills or exercising responsibilities that should be acknowledged through higher pay. One good example of this is the experiences of Vicki, whose story is explored as a worker story in Section 2.1.1. Vicki felt that she was underpaid given that she was performing managerial responsibilities. To give another example: Lutsi was a 41-year-old woman who worked as a barista in a large coffee shop chain in Aberdeen. She had worked in the hospitality industry for almost two decades, both in Scotland and her country of birth, Estonia. She was a supervisor in her coffee shop but often found herself carrying out the tasks of a more senior manager:

"[My pay is] not really [fair], taking the amount of work I do…it's quite a bit more work, but not nearly enough more pay… Rotas, organising stuff, ordering, all the paperwork, more paperwork."

Lutsi, 41, barista in coffee shop, Aberdeen

In a similar example, Andrei, a 30-year-old housekeeping supervisor for a hotel in Stirling, cited his additional responsibilities as a reason for complaint about his level of pay:

"My salary it's 11 pounds per hour, which actually, in my opinion, for the responsibility which I have, I think it's not enough… I don't do just the job of being supervisor: when it's needed, and when it's required, I do the laundry porter, I do the housekeeping, I clean the rooms, I do the manager tasks, when he is on holiday and things like that."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

For other participants, skillset and experience were important factors when assessing the fairness of their pay. For example, Daniel, a night-time hotel receptionist, felt that he should be receiving higher pay, both because of the burden of working nightshifts and because he spoke six languages fluently – a skillset that he felt was valuable in the hotel industry and should be recognised in his pay:

"No, I don't think it is fair to be honest. You get an extra, I don't remember how much it is but it's not very much is it, something like 50p extra if you work nightshifts… [And] I don't get extra for my language skills… And I think it's unfair if you are using languages you should get something for it."

Daniel, 55, hotel receptionist, Glasgow

By comparison, Maria, a barista who worked in a coffee shop in a book shop in St Andrews, felt that pay should reflect education levels and job experience, even if these had occurred in other sectors. Maria had been a secondary school teacher in Romania before moving to Scotland to join her husband and she was currently studying in her free time to apply for a PGCE course so that she could continue to teach in the UK. She felt that her wage did not reflect her education levels or previous work experience. She also commented that the job was not as easy as the pay levels might suggest:

"I think probably it should be paid a bit more to be honest…they probably think it's an easy job, but actually it's not, so, my feeling is that they should be, I think the one thing that people don't realise is that people who are working in a coffee shop, some of them are quite educated as well…So, it's not like people, they've just finished their high school, and they just got their first job, there will be people, I have colleague, one of them is a retired pharmacist, so, they are people who have lots of knowledge and experience, and so on. So, I think it should really be more valued in terms of pay."

Maria, 38, coffee shop barista, St Andrews

As a final example, Kate, who had worked as a barista for an independent coffee shop in Edinburgh throughout her undergraduate degree, felt that pay should increase in line with experience in the job – something that had not happened yet for her. She told us that she hoped to ask for higher pay, especially as she was graduating in the next month and was able to make a more solid commitment in terms of hours for the next year. This also mattered to her as she would also be more reliant on this income, given that she was no longer receiving student loans:

"Yes, at the beginning, because I, when you go somewhere new, I always expect to be paid less, but seeing I do have more experience now, I think I would kind of want to discuss a higher pay…. I think now, especially, since I [am graduating], I will and I've had also more around two years of experience with them."

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and coffee shop barista, Edinburgh

2.2.2 Experiences with tips

Most of our participants received tips although relatively few of them described these as a substantial source of income or a highly-valued part of their job. One exception here was Caroline, who had recently moved jobs from a bar to a local golf club. She was receiving a lower hourly wage in her new job than in her previous job although she had been promised by her new employer "several hundred pounds" of tips every few months, which she felt would compensate for her lower wage.

Participants reported quite different approaches to tips in different venues: some places split them daily and paid employees in cash, while others processed these through payslips and paid them via bank transfer monthly or quarterly. One participant, who worked in a take-away, reported that tips were donated to charity, although she noted this was most likely because they tended to be insignificant amounts.

As with Alek, whose story is told above, a small number of participants expressed concerns that other employees or employers were dishonest in their handling of tips. One participant, István, told us that his previous manager was eventually fired for stealing from the tip jar. However, the majority of participants did not express concern about this with their current employers. Many did, however, report being aware of stories of this happening elsewhere in the hospitality industry.

Finally, it is worth noting that several people reported a reduction in tips in recent months and years, which they linked to the cost-of-living crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, which had resulted in a reduction in table service in many venues, and a reduction in the use of cash (also see Chapter Seven).

2.2.3 Experiences of other benefits

Many of our participants reported receiving complementary food and drink at work, while a few participants working for large organisations reported receiving discounts in other venues across a range of locations in Scotland. One participant working at a hotel also told us that they were allowed to use the hotel facilities, such as gym and swimming pool, for free, while another reported being invited to wine-tastings and Michelin star restaurants as part of her job. While few of these participants reported factoring in these benefits to considerations around the fairness of their pay, they did typically see these benefits as increasing their overall job satisfaction. As the quotes below suggest, many participants also valued this time as an opportunity to take a break and to enjoy well-cooked food:

"Here at the club, you're told to go and make yourself a cup of tea, go and sit down for five minutes. You get your [dinner], before the kitchen closes at 8:30, they usually take last orders for the food about 8.30, 9 o'clock. And the waitress will come and say, 'Chef's asking what you want off the menu for your dinner?' … It's really [nice], I had chicken teriyaki noodles last night, it was beautiful and the last night I was in I had a cheeseburger. You know, it's really nice, the food is lovely."

Caroline, 64, bartender in a local golf club in Perthshire

"One of the nicest things after your shift [in my last job] you would have a drink, alcoholic, non-alcoholic, whatever you wanted. Just those little things, you know, it don't seem much in your pocket, but [it's a good] feeling."

Lutsi, 41 coffee shop barista, Aberdeen

"It's nice that I get fed on the job for free because…I never have to spend money on my lunches, which in other jobs would be an expense, I'd have to waste it. Instead, I'm getting that free. Whenever I'm tired at work I can make myself a coffee, add an extra shot or another one until I'm less tired."

Andrew, 21, undergraduate student and coffee shop waiter, Edinburgh

2.2.4 Inaccuracies and uncertainties around pay

Most of our participants reported being paid accurately, honestly, and in accordance with the law. However, there were some notable exceptions here. For example, the worker stories of Tímea and Alek (see above) provide some stark examples of employers illegally holding back holiday pay, paying 'off the books' in cash, making errors in pay calculations, unilaterally making deductions from pay, and withholding tips.

Other participants had similar stories to tell. In many cases, these were not personal experiences but stories that they heard from friends or colleagues. Indeed, there seemed to be a general consensus among most participants that unscrupulous employers and exploitative practices were common in the hospitality industry, particularly when it came to pay.

In other cases, however, employees did have direct experiences of poor practice by employers. For example, some reported not being paid holiday pay or experiencing employers who paid in cash and kept employees 'off the books'. One participant reported having had to threaten to report his last boss to the authorities for tax avoidance if he did not adequately compensate him for firing him without cause. He told us that he was "a dodgy guy that didn't pay his taxes properly…There's quite a lot of managers that worked for him, they got put on gardening leave for years after they left because they knew all that he was up to."

Other participants reported not being paid for overtime or experiencing errors in their pay. For example, Andrei, a housekeeping supervisor, left a job as he was frequently not paid for the hours that he worked. He commented that he only became aware of this because he kept a note of his own hours:

"But the reason why I left was because they didn't pay for whole hours… For example, they gave me 21 rooms to clean, and it started, for 21 rooms, let's say I have eight and a half hours, but they didn't pay eight hours and a half, they pay like seven, or six hours and a half, which it's not fair. Because I found these things, all the time when I am going to work, when I am coming home, I write on the paper the number of hours what I worked."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

In another example, Daniel, a hotel receptionist, complained that his employers failed to accurately record his hours, meaning that his pay was frequently incorrect. As a result, he always checked his payslip:

"Every time I get paid I have to look at my hours because it is always wrong… I think it is if you do like an hour extra now and then and you put it up they don't look at it, they look at the rota only and pay you after that. And it happens quite often until all of us, I talked with my supervisor about it but … he tells them but it takes time before you get it fixed and if you get it fixed you get it in the next salary…. I always write up my hours because I [have] seen so many mistakes so I always write my hours what I do…. If you don't check it, they don't."

Daniel, 55, hotel receptionist, Glasgow

It is interesting to note here that both Andrei and Daniel emphasise the importance of having to check their own pay slips and record their own hours, suggesting a lack of trust in their employer to pay them correctly. Indeed, even for those hospitality workers who reported few negative experiences, it was often seen as necessary to check their hours were correct. In some cases, this was because their hours changed regularly, which was seen as potentially creating confusion:

"They are recorded on a paper sheet, which is on the wall at work, so, it's typed, but it is just there and then if there are any changes, so, if you switch a shift with someone, or if you end up staying an hour later, because [someone is] in late, then you change it just by hand, but usually I haven't had any problems with that. Sometimes, if there has been a bigger shift change, I do just make sure to message my boss directly, just to ensure that that is recorded right."

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and coffee shop barista, Edinburgh

"Sometimes I think that's happened maybe a little bit less or a little bit more but usually it's quite consistent with what I think I earn. According to my boss I think it's something to do with maybe the accountant maybe miscalculating something but usually it's not too far off what I should take home. I think at the beginning of employment I [used to check my payslip] a lot and then I haven't done it so much lately… sometimes, if I have time then I'll do a check."

Lily, 26, undergraduate student and part-time waitress in Thai restaurant, Edinburgh

By contrast, others reported checking their payslip assiduously because of negative experiences at previous employers, which continued to affect their attitudes now:

"Yes, I always [check when I get paid], I have a payslip, I look at the hours, I guess I've always been like that….When I was working in the pub, I was on and off, I was on and off for about four years, I never got an ounce of holiday pay, and yes, I just, so, I think that's maybe where that's come from."

Lizzie, 23, waitress in a hotel in an island resort.

In a final example, Caroline, a 64-year-old woman, reported a mixture of reasons for her concerns around her pay in the job that she just left in a local pub. Chief among these concerns was a lack of clarity and communication from her employers about how she was being paid and what she was entitled to, meaning that she felt unable to check the accuracy of her pay:

"Well, I just don't know how it worked, to be honest. I could never really work out what my wages were going to be because the boss is not [local] – it was the last Friday of the month that you were paid but if I was working that day, I never knew if I was getting paid for that day, or if it was going on to the next month, do you know what I mean? Because the boss had to know our hours before pay-day. So, I just never knew how much I was actually going to be getting paid…. The manager just took a note of [my hours]. The manager, and she passed it on to the boss, to do the wages…I don't know [if she got it right], to be perfectly honest. And I just, I couldn't be bothered asking the question… And I didn't like that, whereas you know, I write my hours into a diary for [my new job] at the Club and I knew exactly what I'm getting. So, you know, I feel better about that, that I'll be able to work out what I'm getting paid."

"And also, on the pay-slips from the pub, it said something about holiday, but then the manager that left; we were speaking about holidays one day and I think I had said 'Oh, do you get holiday pay?' And she says, 'Well that's why you haven't got a contract'. So, I never knew if I was actually getting any holiday pay."

Caroline, 64, bartender at golf club, Perthshire

As suggested by Caroline's last comments, uncertainties around holiday pay were common among the workers that we interviewed – a point taken up in the section below.

2.2.5. Uncertainties around holiday pay

Many of our research participants on zero-hours contracts reported being unclear or unaware of whether they were due holiday pay. Some felt certain that they were not due holiday pay, while others had a sense they might be but they were unsure of the details. Some stated that they had recently discovered through talking to other colleagues that they were due holiday pay but had previously not been paid. In all these cases, employees reported that their employers had never explained to them what they were entitled to. The selection of quotes below capture a sense of some of these uncertainties around holiday pay:

"No, well, I think the holiday pay you can ask for, it's a bit weird, I don't really get holiday pay but yes, you can ask for it at a certain quarter of the year or something like that, which I only found out recently, so, I think I've been missing out on that money. If you don't ask for it, you don't get it sort of thing… No, I think it's sort of like a, you have to figure it out yourself, I don't know, it's, they're happy to keep the money, because it's not like their obligation, I don't know. I wish I had known that over the past 12 months."

Alistair, 20, undergraduate student and waiter for events catering agency, Edinburgh

"[Holiday pay] is actually something I looked at recently, I don't think I am [due it] for this job but I could just be reading my payslip wrong…. I did look it up recently, I think it's around, oh God, what was it? I do know, but I can't remember at the moment, definitely more than I do get though…. I think so, but I need to double check that, because in terms of hours, I'm not sure."

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and barista in a coffee shop, Edinburgh

"I think you do [get holiday pay]; you get some days off according to how many days you work. So, I think I don't get that many, I think for the last year, I probably got like five, which I took off.. I don't know if you can just [choose to take them off], I don't think so. I think you, yes, if I had to take them, but if they said it is not allowed, maybe I should have mentioned something about that, as well, when you said about the negatives, the fact that there is not a lot of time that you can take off."

Maria, 38, barista in a coffee shop chain, St Andrews

2.3 Migration and vulnerability

As has been suggested throughout this chapter – and particularly through the worker stories of Tímea and Alek – hospitality workers who have migrated to Scotland in recent years may feel especially vulnerable to exploitation over pay and hours. As explored in their stories, they explained this sense of vulnerability as due, in part, to the exploitative behaviour of employers and, in part, to their limited capacities in English and limited understanding of the industry.

Several other participants reflected on the difficulties created by having limited English. Ana, a waitress and hotel housekeeper whom we interviewed in Spanish, told us that her limited English held her back at work in a number of ways. First, it had limited her capacity to take on customer-facing roles, which was something that she found difficult as talking to customers had always been her favourite part of working in hospitality when she was living in Spain. She told us that, particularly when she first arrived in Scotland, this became a somewhat vicious circle, as she could get only jobs involving nightshifts and cleaning work, which then limited the amount of time she spent talking in English to both customers and colleagues. Although her English was improving now, she only worked as a waitress during the breakfast shift, so her contact with customers was still limited as her tasks revolved largely around re-filling a buffet service. Secondly, she told us that limited English had affected her progression opportunities: she was keen to take on more senior roles but had been told directly by her employer that she had to improve her English first. Thirdly, Ana felt that her limited English left her vulnerable to poor treatment by colleagues. She told us that that this was a problem primarily with other migrants who used her lack of English to exert power over her:

"That's my main problem working abroad, other foreigners who speak more English think they have more power over those who speak English less well, I've seen it happen with myself and colleagues. I don't speak English but I'm not dumb, I'm not stupid, I can understand what you're saying."

Ana, 36, housekeeper and waitress in hotel, Edinburgh (interview translated from Spanish to English)

In another example, Andrei, a student and housekeeping supervisor, described to us how, when he first arrived in Scotland from Romania, his limited English made it hard for him to apply to jobs through formal means, leaving him instead to rely on Romanian networks. He told us that when applying for his first job in Scotland he did not write a CV or any other formal application: instead he had a conversation with the Romanian manager of the hotel who offered him a job on the spot. As his English has improved, he has applied for jobs more formally through websites such as Indeed, which he described as widening his opportunities, reducing the potential for bad experiences, and leading to his current supervisory position. His improved English also allowed him to switch jobs frequently – he reported having had fourteen jobs in one year – which he told us allowed him to leave jobs when he experienced poor conditions or problematic relationships with colleagues. He now observes other people without good English struggling with application requirements:

"If you ask people who don't speak English very well, it will be a very complicated process, because for them, it's quite different.. it's quite hard, because they don't know even how to complete their CV..[or] it's some people who don't know how to use the online forms, how to apply online and things like that, it's still many people who come with the CV paper, physically to the hotel, and they leave it at Reception, because it's, they don't know how to use the online forms."

Andrei also spoke to us about the potential for exploitation at the hands of online companies who recruit workers from abroad. He described to us his experiences of arranging a job before leaving Romania:

"It was with [an] agency, not online, because it was very hard to do that online, because it's online, it's many people who promise you a job and they ask you to pay some money, and then you pay but they didn't give you a job, they try to do some tricky things. It was very hard to believe someone. [Then] I found an agency and I think I asked a lawyer to check if they are legal, and things like that, and yes, I've been asking a lawyer to check, if it is legal what they're doing, and he checked, and it was fine and I said, "Okay, I will apply to this."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

Therefore, as with Alek (see worker story above), Andrei emphasises the importance of being vigilant to potential exploitation and of conducting appropriate checks oneself.

It is important to say that not all the migrants we spoke to expressed these sentiments of vulnerability, suggesting that further research could usefully explore the extent of such experiences, and whether certain groups are more likely than others to feel vulnerable in the sector.