In the weeks since pubs reopened in the UK, many people have called for a Wetherspoon’s boycott. A #NeverSpoons app has even been created to help people avoid the popular pub chain and support independent establishments instead. But is it a good idea to boycott Wetherspoons in the middle of a pandemic?
How did the boycott Wetherspoons campaign start?
The ‘Boycott Wetherspoons’ / #NeverSpoons campaign first kicked off when Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin shared a video at the start of lockdown in which he told staff there could be delays in wage payments while the government’s furlough scheme was set up. He suggested they may wish to get a job at a supermarket.
Staff, unions, MPs and the public all criticised Tim Martin’s comments and some called for a total boycott of all Wetherspoon’s pubs.
Wetherspoon’s later performed a u-turn and agreed to pay furloughed staff, after 90 MPs wrote to the chain and demanded they support their workers during the pandemic.
MP Jo Stevens tweeted: “Wetherspoons have u-turned on decision not to pay 43,000 staff while pubs are shut. Staff to be paid on April 3 and weekly after that. Good news, but people won’t forget political pressure forced your hand Tim Martin.”
This wasn’t the first time Wetherspoon’s staff have felt let down by their employer. In fact, Tim Martin has quite the track record for mistreating and exploiting his staff. He’s been accused of paying ‘poverty wages’ by Owen Jones and many workers have spoken out about being forced to promote pro-Brexit propaganda in fear of losing their jobs.
For many pub goers, Tim Martin’s latest behaviour has been the final straw, inspiring them to boycott his pubs in favour of independent businesses.
How do Wetherspoon’s staff feel about #NeverSpoons?
Wetherspoon’s staff have been vocal about their feelings surrounding the boycott. Many have expressed concerns that a drastic fall in the number of customers compared to pre-COVID times could result in mass job losses. They say it’ll destroy workers’ finances long before it even makes a dent in the pockets of those at the top.
In an interview with VICE, an anonymous Wetherspoon’s worker said: “If you feel guilty about coming to the pub, you should be aware that none of us in the Wetherspoons union want a boycott. Our hours are already at the bare minimum because the company’s made no money. If trade is significantly reduced, I’m going to have my hours cut, along with everyone else. I’ll lose income and I won’t be able to pay my rent. Boycotting Wetherspoons is not helping the workers right now, it’s just suiting your own narrative. If you genuinely want to support us and help out reasonably then come in, wash your hands, don’t be a dick, wear a mask, and be respectful.”
Over the last few months Wetherspoon’s workers have been furloughed and forced to live off just 80% of their wages. Many staff members faced financial hardship long before the pandemic, thanks to low wages, a lack of full-time contracts, and no sick pay.
In 2018, Wetherspoons staff joined forces and held a strike for the first time in the company’s history in a bid to improve their working conditions. Unfortunately, very little changed and the pandemic has only made the situation worse.
Are boycotts an effective way to improve workers’ rights?
It’s difficult to tell how effective boycotting Spoons would be in improving workers’ rights. I’m a strong believer in ‘voting with your feet’ by supporting businesses that treat workers well. Good employers should be rewarded and bad employers should face consequences. I also believe in supporting small independent businesses, especially at times of economic uncertainty.
But as Owen Jones pointed out in a passionate Twitter discussion, claiming to fight on behalf of Wetherspoon’s workers while simultaneously going against their wishes is incredibly patronising.
And as long as huge corporations put profits before people, it’s unlikely a boycott will hurt those at the top or create meaningful change.
What we need is strengthened trade unions and government intervention to protect workers. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I’d be more inclined to support a Wetherspoons boycott because there would be more options available for any Wetherspoon’s worker who lost their job. But now doesn’t feel like the right time.
What do Wetherspoons workers want?
So what do Wetherspoon’s workers actually want, seeing as they disagree with a boycott? Well, to start with unionised members have created the following list of ‘demands’:
- PPE must be available, sufficient and appropriate
- Security on doors at all times
- Any pub/kitchen unable to operate safely must stay closed
- No loss of earnings due to COVID-19
- No penalty for not reaching company targets
- No skeleton staffing
- Pubs go cashless during pandemic
- Full sick pay from day one
Should I boycott Wetherspoons and join the #NeverSpoons campaign?
So, should you boycott Wetherspoons?
By all means, if you really don’t like Wetherspoon’s or you hate the thought of making Tim Martin richer, no one is forcing you to go to ‘Spoons. I fully support your right to spend your money in businesses that treat their workers well and companies that align themselves with your values.
But think twice about taking part in the Never Spoons campaign in workers’ name. It’s possible to support independent businesses without pretending to care for workers who will be left jobless in the middle of a pandemic if profits continue to fall.
If times are hard and you can’t afford to pay more than £3 for a pint, Curry Club gets your heart racing, or the wacky carpets make your local ‘Spoons feels like home, please don’t feel pressured into boycotting the chain. Instead, treat staff members with respect during every visit, respect social distancing guidelines as much as possible, tip generously, and support their union.
Although many of those in support of the Never Spoons campaign are well intentioned, their efforts go against the wishes of Wetherspoon’s workers and at a time of severe job loss and economic uncertainty, I personally feel we should be cautious about doing anything that could exasperate the problem and result in more people losing what’s likely to be their only source of income.
If Wetherspoon’s workers lose their jobs, they’ll struggle to find work elsewhere because hospitality is one of the hardest hit industries to suffer during the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t want to see anyone else struggling to pay their bills or put food on the table and I imagine you probably feel the same.
This isn’t to say we should stay silent and simply turn the other cheek when Tim Martin treats his staff like dirt. Here are a few things we can do to support the Wetherspoon’s team…
What can I do to support Wetherspoons staff during the pandemic?
- Support the @SpoonStrike campaign on Twitter and share it with your friends
- Take the discussion offline and discuss the campaign with friends, relatives, and anyone thinking of boycotting Spoons
- When you visit a Wetherspoons, ask members of staff if they’re a member of the union
- Please tip members of staff generously