PizzaExpress launches a record label just as it’s cutting workers’ hours – oh, and don’t mention its taxes

PizzaExpress workers protesting outside a shop the company has just launched a record label
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Bosses at PizzaExpress are hammering workers. Oddly, though, it comes just after the hospitality chain launched its own record label, of all things. However, what’s not so unusual is that PizzaExpress is shafting workers while also being rather unclear about just how much tax it’s paying.

PizzaExpress: cutting workers’ slice of the (pizza) pie

Bosses at PizzaExpress are cutting workers’ hours. Unite Hospitality, part of Unite the Union, said in an open letter to PizzaExpress CEO Paula MacKenzie:

The mass roll-out of your ‘labour management scheme’ would effectively remove non-salaried managers from the rota for lunchtime shifts.

This policy could see thousands of waiters lose hundreds of hours without proper consultation, and managers having to do even more work for the same wage!

The impact this will have on the most financially insecure part-time workers who need these lunchtime hours to fit around school and childcare is catastrophic.

The Guardian reported that the changes will hit around 400 hourly paid staff. Bosses could end up cutting hundreds of pounds from people’s wages. Yet, PizzaExpress is arguing that it’s doing it for its customers. It gave the Guardian some corporate BS:

Customer habits are always changing, and we have to adapt to that. As part of this we’re tweaking our operational system, so we always have the right number of team members in our restaurants to serve the number of customers dining.

Read on...

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In reality, the Guardian saw an internal memo which said bosses were cutting the hours in order to ‘hit budgets’.

No stranger to treating workers like shit

Of course, PizzaExpress is no stranger to controversy regarding the way it treats front of house (FoH) staff. As the Guardian previously reported, in 2021 bosses tried to cut FoH workers’:

share of tips and service charges paid on credit and debit cards… from 70% to 50%

Bosses wanted to give the additional tips to kitchen staff. This would have left FoH team members on average £2,000 a year worse off. Essentially, bosses were trying to avoid giving kitchen staff a decent pay rise.

However, thanks to Unite – along with solidarity between front and back of house staff – PizzaExpress was forced to back down over the planned policy.

Yet here we are again – with PizzaExpress once more trying to hammer FoH staff. This time round, though, and it comes just after the company launched a new venture.

Not music to workers’ ears

PizzaExpress launched PX Records in April – part of PizzaExpress Live, its music arm, which hosts music events at some venues. Food Service Equipment Journal reported that:

The next chapter in the organisation’s story is the launch of PX Records and the release of a selection of live albums recorded across its venues – PizzaExpress Live in Holborn, the historic PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho, and The Pheasantry in Chelsea – which will feature performances from a broad mix of established artists and emerging talent from across the worlds of jazz, soul, blues and more.

The first run of releases will feature albums from master US saxophonist and mainstay of the international jazz scene, Scott Hamilton, incendiary UK soul outfit, Mamas Gun, genre-blurring multi-instrumentalist and producer, edbl, and one of the most hotly-tipped new bands on the UK scene, Native Dancer.

Lovely, if you’re a jazz and soul fan – not so lovely if PizzaExpress employs you. When bosses are cutting workers’ hours, you’d be forgiven for wondering why PizzaExpress would spaff money up the wall on PX Records.

Plus, what’s unclear from the record label is just where the money will be going.

Where does the money go?

PIzzaExpress Live’s website says it is part of PizzaExpress (Restaurants) Limited. This company made a £45m profit in the 52 weeks to January 2022. But the brand includes lots of different companies. For example, ‘PizzaExpress Limited’ showed a loss (£18m) on the 52 months to January 2022. Meanwhile, the ultimate parent company, ‘PizzaExpress Operations Limited’, made a £164m profit. Yet somehow, the company (or one of them, anyway) is still cutting staff hours.

Moreover, PizzaExpress’s finances are interesting to say the least. Its ultimate parent company is Wheel Topco Limited, which is registered in the tax haven of Jersey. PizzaExpress’s main accounts show it funnelling money backwards and forwards between its subsidiaries and parent companies. The main company owes over £1bn to other companies in the group.

It is unclear whether PizzaExpress or any of its associated companies paid full tax on this or not. This is because Wheel Topco’s accounts are not public, due to it being based in Jersey.

However, back in 2013, the Independent reported that PizzaExpress was among a number of companies caught up in the Eurobonds tax avoidance scheme. These companies borrowed money from their parent companies in the Channel Islands via its stock exchange. In this way, they avoided paying taxes. This all looks very similar to what PizzaExpress’s accounts are showing now.

Workers shat on by bosses? Mamma Mia!

So, from record labels to offshore accounting via turning a profit while cutting staff hours, PizzaExpress sure knows how to look after bosses and shareholders while screwing over workers.

Fortunately, Unite Hospitality is supporting the workers in fighting back. It’s helped workers organise PizzaExpress United – a “collective campaign” to take on the bosses. The group said on its social media that:

Restaurant workers are sick of being taken advantage of and gaslighted by Pizza Express. We will not stand for it anymore!

You can support the PizzaExpress workers in their fight against the bosses by signing this petition, and sharing it. If you’re a PizzaExpress worker, you can find links here on how to get involved with the campaign.

Workers in hospitality are one of the most exploited, yet under-unionised, groups in the UK. However, this has been changing in recent years – with workers fighting back, and organising, at companies like McDonald’s, TGI Fridays, and coffee chains like Starbucks. PizzaExpress staff not having it from the bosses is just another example of the power in grassroots union organising. Now, other workers in hospitality need to join the fight back.

Featured image via Unite Hospitality 

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