Café and restaurant bosses in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere complain that a shortage of workers may now push them into raising wages.
About time. A pay survey estimates the average wage in fast food in the UK at £6.50 an hour. (The legal minimum wage is £8.91. But only if you’re 23 or over. For under-18s it’s £4.62, for apprentices £4.30). In the USA the estimate is $11 average (£7.75), and the common workers’ demand is $15 (£10.57).
But the bosses are puzzled because they’d expected huge unemployment by now and a “buyer’s market” for labour.
Thanks to public pressure making the Tories extend furlough five times (there were still 3.5 million workers on furlough on 30 April 2021), joblessness is not that high. But it is high. And the “economic inactivity” rate among people aged 16-64, which had been declining for many years, increased by about 800,000 between pre-pandemic and the latest available stats (January-March 2021).
There are many reasons why people might not be rushing into low-paid work in often crowded indoor spaces at cafés and such. One possible factor is a rise of “cash-in-hand” jobs: the amount of cash in circulation has risen surprisingly fast during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, good socially-useful jobs in relatively well-unionised sectors are facing cuts or stagnation. The NHS is about 100,000 workers short, and the government refuses to raise wages more than minimally. The care sector, less unionised, is also short. Schools, in big cities anyway, are declaring redundancies. Local council budgets for 2021-2 almost everywhere include cuts and job losses, because central government has refused properly to cover extra spending and reduced income in the pandemic.
Companies like Rolls Royce have cut thousands of jobs, but there is no government plan for “climate jobs” to carry through the urgent “greening” of economic life.
Solidarity campaigns for the labour movement to combat the cuts, demand more public-service employment and more “green” investment, and to go for a shorter working week (four days or 32 hours as standard) with no loss of pay. That will create more openings for the young workers who, disproportionately, have lost jobs in the pandemic. It will put increased pressure on those fast-food bosses, and put their workers in a stronger position to organise to win better pay and conditions.