Pret a Manger has informed its employees that a pay cut originally intended to be temporary will now be made permanent.
The 373-outlet sandwich chain stopped paying workers during their breaks last September as a cost-cutting move.
But trade has remained very low compared with pre-pandemic levels and the firm has now told workers that the measure will be kept in place, leading some employees to discuss strike action.
Pret has also announced, contrary to its earlier position, that its bonus for good service will return to its original level from September. The bonus, determined by mystery shopper ratings, had been offered at a reduced level since lockdown easing in April.
An email to staff by Pret’s chief executive Pano Christou said: “The business is still in recovery but it’s important that we continue to invest in and support our teams however we can.”
When it came to pay changes, Christou said: “The most important thing for me throughout the last year has been to protect as many Pret jobs as we can.
“However, we also promised to review these changes when our sales improved. Unfortunately it’s taking longer than we had hoped to get sales back to what they were before the pandemic, which is why we’ve had to make some difficult decisions about how we reward our hard-working teams.”
He added: “Like others in the hospitality industry, the pandemic had a big impact on our business, so last year we adjusted our business model. The business is still trading significantly below pre-pandemic levels, but we continue to review our benefits.
“This is in no way a reflection of the hard work of our teams and we’re incredibly grateful for their dedication and commitment.”
The pay changes will mean that a worker on an eight-hour shift, including a legally required half-hour break, will continue to see a pay cut of just over 6% a shift in comparison with pre-pandemic levels. Pret said it would review pay in April 2022.
The reinstatement of the staff bonus may have been a response to staff unrest as Pret workers, most of whom earn basic pay at minimum wage levels of £8.91 an hour, had discussed strike action over pay in recent weeks.
Trade unions gave their support to the Pret workers. Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, said: “We call on Pret to think again. 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.
It’s awful to read that workers are facing even worse conditions as we try and get the economy back on track” – Ian Hodson, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Employment lawyers, however, warned that the strike would not be lawful and would see workers lose out.
Vanessa James, partner in Ashfords’ employment team, said: “Wildcat strikes are not lawful and employees who undertake such unlawful action risk dismissal. It would appear that currently Pret is not a formally unionised workforce, which means that the published threats of strike action would be unlawful unless the Bakers Food and Allied Workers 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 union would then have to ballot its members for strike action and if that vote was positive then their members would secure statutory immunity from tortious liability if they decided to join the strike picket (ie, they could not be dismissed).
“The biggest hindrance for a positive result on strike action from union members 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. A lawful strike would be disruptive for Pret but what is suggested here seems to be wildcat in nature.”
Since the onset of Covid-19, Pret has closed 39 shops in the UK, in addition to 33 EAT outlets, which it also owns. It also shut 22 Pret sites in the US. It has cut 3,771 jobs in the UK as well as 1,292 roles in the US.
Pret gained a capital injection of £185m last year from shareholders and has access to a finance facility of £150m that runs until December this year, but can be extended for a further six months. It did not pay a dividend payment to shareholders in April.