Pret a Manger staff strike over pandemic pay cuts made permanent

Sandwich chain Pret a Manger has announced its temporary pandemic pay cuts will be made permanent, with staff now preparing to strike.

Pret's management attributed the cuts to trade remaining significantly below pre-COVID levels.

In a statement the company said: "This is in no way a reflection of the hard work of our teams and we're incredibly grateful for their dedication and commitment.

According to BBC News Pret declined to comment on whether staff were planning to go on strike. 

However, it said: "Like others in the hospitality industry, the pandemic had a big impact on our business, so last year we adjusted our business model."

The vast majority of workers at Pret earn basic pay of the legal minimum £8.91 an hour, and in July last year, after the pandemic hit, were told they would temporarily not be paid for breaks.

An employee told the Guardian yesterday (12 August) Pret staff are now organising a strike next month, arguing pay has gotten worse as the work has become harder.

After learning about the strike action, the chain has reversed its decision to cut staff bonuses.

President of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, Ian Hodson, said Pret should think again about reducing employees pay.

He said: “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.”

Hodson said after the pandemic trade unions are seeing a return to bad business and working people cannot and should not accept that anymore.

“We all deserve a better deal, and we will support the workers at Pret if the strike goes ahead,” he said.

Matt Jenkin, partner and head of employment law at Moorcrofts, said Pret need to make it clear why they are cutting pay and how they will provide for their employees.  

He told HR magazine: “What isn’t clear is how Pret intend to implement the permanent pay reduction. 

“Are they looking to agree the reduction with the employees, on the basis that employees may well agree if it secures their employment or are they simply imposing the permanent reduction on the staff?” 

Jenkin said imposing the reduction would be a big step as it could amount to a unilateral variation of the employment contract.

“This could expose the company to unfair constrictive dismissal claims from employees with two or more years of service.”

Vanessa James, partner in Ashfords' employment team, warned Pret employees their strike might be unlawful and that they should proceed with caution.
James described un-unionised worker strikes as 'Wildcat' strikes, and told HR magazine these were not lawful and employees who undertake such unlawful action risk dismissal. 
She said: "It would appear that currently Pret are not a formally unionised workforce, which means the threats of strike action would be unlawful unless the Bakers Food and Allied Workers (BFAW) union is able to secure union recognition and undertake a lawful ballot that comes out in favour of strike action.   
"This would mean that, having obtained formal union recognition, the BFAW would then have to ballot their members for strike action and if that vote was positive in favour of strike action then their members would secure statutory immunity from tortious liability if they decided to join the strike picket, they could not be dismissed." 
James said the biggest issue for unionised strike action is that those who strike are not entitled to pay, even if the strike is lawful. 
"This means that they can strike and not fear dismissal but will not be paid for any days that they are out on strike. 
"Sometimes unions will support member pay when they strike but it would seem unlikely in the Pret dispute that this would happen. It is not common for employers such as Pret to be unionised as unions find it difficult to secure recognition in such a transient workforce." 
James said a lawful strike would be far more disruptive for Pret as a business and would have a much greater benefit for employees