The Saint’s investigation of our town’s hospitality industry revealed not only a culture of student exploitation in several local establishments but also the difficulties of addressing said problem.
Harassment, exploitation, and underpayment are common issues in the restaurant industry. In a student haven, however, this behaviour is particularly reprehensible. St Andrews has an unusual demographic composition: it is a town full of students but has many attractions for the wealthy. One source recalls serving “local aristocracy” on a regular basis.
The seemingly endless supply of students is part of the problem – establishments have an expendable, cheap labour pool to draw on for the service of the well-established and wealthy.
Another source noted that though she experienced harassment on a daily basis, the food and atmosphere of the restaurant itself were unparalleled, indicating the quality of service and product, but at the cost of the employee.
British labour laws further exacerbate a culture of exploitation. In the last year, there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of UK workers on zero-hour contracts. Under zero-hour contracts, bosses are under no obligation to give their employees any hours.This leads to a precarious situation, particularly for students relying on income.
For example, if the boss takes a disliking to you for any reason, no matter how petty (say, voicing a complaint, or joining a union, or forgetting their birthday), they can stop giving you hours consequence-free.
Workers under these contracts have few rights and little pay. Though they offer a much-touted “flexibility,” the exploitative potential is off the charts.
New Zealand’s parliament unanimously voted to outlaw zero-hour contracts in 2016 and now operates on the basis of minimum fixed hours.
At an individual level, students looking for work and food alike can avoid restaurants and bars with a poor history of employee treatment.
This town’s culture of harassment merits conversation. Collective action, education, and accountability are key –– with them, St Andrews can address a deep-rooted, systemic problem.
Editor’s note: This editorial represents the views of Deputy Editor Richard Joseph and Editor Meilan Solly, not The Saint.