UNISON wins huge settlement for school meals workers

UNISON forced catering company Dolce to pay workers thousands of unpaid wages after cutting their hours

After a three-year battle, UNISON members working for a catering company in the North West have won a significant wages settlement.

In December 2020, in the midst of the second COVID-19 lockdown, school meals staff employed by Dolce were told that their hours would be reduced by an average of 20-25%, with some as much as 40%, and others were told they would be moved to zero-hours contracts.

Many were still expected to work the hours that they were originally contracted to do; UNISON national officer Leigh Powell explained: “Workers on 30-hour contracts saw their hours cut to 25 and were told that, if they ended up working 30, that extra five would have to be claimed as overtime.”

The changes were imposed by the employer right before Christmas, which resulted in an immediate pay cut for workers with longer-term implications for their holiday and sick pay.

The majority of workers affected are low-paid, female workers.

Ms Powell continued: “The employer’s argument was that, on returning to school after the COVID-19 lockdowns, school meals uptake was low and therefore profits were too low.”

UNISON lawyers brought a claim of unauthorised deduction of wages on behalf of 50 workers and won thousands of pounds for UNISON members at Dolce. Further to this, 23 additional workers who had TUPE-transferred to different employers have also settled for a substantial sum.

UNISON Salford City branch secretary Diane Ogg said: “Members at Salford UNISON are ecstatic they have won their legal claim against their employer. These are people who were classed as frontline workers in the pandemic, and had to endure immense stress at the hands of an employer who informed them that their hours and pay would be cut.”

“Through sheer determination and with the support of UNISON, these workers have fought for their rights and claimed a victory.”

Ms Powell said: “Whilst we are delighted that our members have got the money they are due, this issue highlights how lower-paid workers, particularly women, are losing out in the fragmented market that our school meals service has been reduced to.

“Dolce, like any other business, was seeking to maintain profits and it tried to do so at the expense of the workforce. We should be spending public money on ensuring children are fed well, not directing it into the hands of private shareholders.”