High street coffee chain Pret a Manger, who have over 900 stores across 9 countries, have launched their latest round of attacks on the rights of their workers leading many to call for strike action. Pret a Manger is no stranger to controversy, with poor working conditions a seemingly habitual part of their history. For example, their heavily criticised use of ‘Mystery shoppers’ to extract exhausting emotional labour from their staff and the sacking of a Pret a Manger union co-founder in 2012. These latest attacks are set against the backdrop of the pandemic which has had devastating effects on workers worldwide. In August 2020 the company cut 2,890 jobs in the UK, announced that staff would temporarily not be paid for breaks and that bonuses for staff judged to have given good customer service would be slashed. Almost simultaneously the chain introduced their ‘coffee subscription’ that would entitle customers to up to 5 coffees a day for a charge of £20 per month, meaning that workers were dealt a double blow of harder shifts and worse conditions.
Despite assurances that the cuts would be temporary measures, Pret have now announced that they have no intention of undoing the changes.This has sparked outrage and many have taken to Twitter to express their anger at the company and staff calling for a strike next month. Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, has been quoted as saying: “We call on Pret to think again. We can no longer sit back and allow these companies to boost their profits from workers’ wages. It’s awful to read that workers are facing even worse conditions as we try and get the economy back on track. After the pandemic we are seeing a return to bad business as usual and working people cannot and should not accept that any more. We all deserve a better deal and we will support the workers at Pret if the strike goes ahead.”
Socialist Alternative stands in solidarity with Pret staff and calls on trade unions to support workers not only in words but also in action. Millions of workers in hospitality and retail would join a trade union if they see a fight back taking place. These groups of workers have faced huge difficulties during the pandemic whilst companies have profited. The trade union movement should look to organise the most exploited in society, and to harness the collective power that could strike a blow against the bosses and their profit agenda.