Beefeater owner threatened with legal action over plan for 1,500 job cuts

11 June 2024 , 08:21
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Whitbread owns the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurant chains as well as Premier Inn hotels. Photograph: Brian Anthony/Alamy
Whitbread owns the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurant chains as well as Premier Inn hotels. Photograph: Brian Anthony/Alamy

Union claims Whitbread, which also owns Premier Inn, has not consulted properly with restaurant staff

More than 1,500 workers from restaurants including Brewers Fayre, Table Table and Beefeater outlets are threatening their parent company Whitbread with legal action over alleged poor consultation on planned job cuts and closures.

The Unite union has written to Whitbread, which also owns Premier Inn hotels, saying it is considering launching employment tribunal claims for unfair dismissal. It says some of the 3,000 workers potentially affected by the company’s moves to exit more than 200 restaurants have yet to be told which sites will close despite evidence that plans have been in place since December last year. 

The union, which is not formerly recognised by Whitbread but says it represents hundreds of the people who may lose their jobs, claims that a statutory 45-day consultation with those affected, which kicked off in late April, has not been conducted in a “genuine or meaningful way”. It says there is no evidence that Whitbread has considered alternatives to redundancy despite the company reporting a 36% rise in underlying profit to £561m.

Several workers who live in accommodation linked to their job have been told they will be served with eviction notices in July and August, which is when the bulk of redundancies are expected to be implemented.

Whitbread, which runs 850 hotels in the UK, announced the plans for job cuts at the end of April as part of a £150m three-year cost-cutting drive. It said at the time it would seek to find alternative jobs for those affected.

The company is looking to sell 126 unprofitable restaurants and close 112 more which will be converted into space for new hotel rooms. It will keep 196 mainly larger restaurants adjacent to hotels.

Bryan Simpson, the lead organiser for the hospitality sector at Unite, said questions from the union and from elected representatives for those staff potentially affected by redundancy have not been answered.

“The way in which our members have been treated by Whitbread is morally reprehensible and potentially unlawful,” he said. “We firmly believe that senior management have known about these redundancies for several months before their workers found out via the media and many don’t even know.

“Despite refusing to answer questions from their workers and their union, the company now wishes to bulldoze through a consultation process which has been neither genuine nor meaningful, with the first terminations happening on 4 July.” 

A spokesperson for Whitbread, which has said the restaurants it is closing are loss-making and its profit rise comes from its hotels business, said: “We do not accept these allegations. We have a comprehensive and transparent collective consultation process, and are engaging directly with elected representatives and the individuals potentially affected.

“The consultation process is still ongoing and as part of this we are seeking to find alternative opportunities wherever possible through the roles created by this programme and our existing recruitment process that makes circa 15,000 hires each year. We expect to retain a significant proportion of those who wish to remain with us and are providing dedicated support to our teams.”

The company added that potentially affected individuals were informed about the status of their sites on 30 April and elected representatives had subsequently been provided with information about all site closures.

Unite claims that staff from the restaurants have been offered a less generous payoff than workers in Whitbread’s head office or regional managers in relation to their position. For example, Simpson says that head office workers can receive a redundancy payment after one year of service compared with the statutory two years required for those serving in the restaurants.

It said: “As the union for Whitbread workers, we will be doing everything we can legally, industrially and politically to challenge these unnecessary job losses – and win maximum compensation for our members.”

Emma Davis

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