Pret fires longstanding employee who attempted to unionise, asked for the London Living Wage for all employees

UK chain Pret a Manger has a cuddly reputation for being more than a mere fast-food joint, despite the capital it took on from McDonald's. But when a longstanding Pret employee called Andrej tried to organise a union in his shop with the reasonable goal of having all Pret employees paid the London Living Wage of £8.55, they fired him. It's just part of a dirty tricks campaign run by Pret against its 91% immigrant workforce when they have the audacity to organise. I'm done eating at Pret until they reinstate Andrej and promise to pay their staff the London Living Wage.

Pret A Manger Staff Union


    1. That’s gross per hour. As a a yearly salary based on 40 hours/week that’s a little under £18,000.

        1. Umm. Do you realise most average working people in London are on far less than 18k? Salaries of 12-14k are common. No, it’s not enough to live. Yes, people somehow do.

        2. I lived in London for four years while I was at university, and I estimate I spent less than £8000 a year (and I only went back to my parents’ house for one of the summers, the rest I spent in London).

          Look on Gumtree and you’ll see loads of rooms in shared houses/flats for £70-£100/wk. A shared room is a little over half that price, if you’re *really* keen to live centrally.  (Most students will group together with friends to rent a place between them, but plenty of people share houses/flats after university, or if they didn’t go.)

          1. And that’s how you expect someone to live their life, not just their student years? And without the assistance of cheap union bars? Is that how you would like to live your entire life? Think about it. Carefully. Use your university education…

          2. Even with my university education, I don’t see an opinion in my earlier comment. You seem to have presumed one for me, so I think you’re in an excellent position to continue the discussion without me.

            Think about it, and do let me know what my conclusion is.

  1. I believe that sacking him for the reasons outlined on PAMSU is illegal and most judges would see it that way.  It seems that he was subject to an internal hearing for reinstatement – screw that, just go to court!  He can sue for his lost wages, damages and reinstatement if he wants it.  Sounds like he has plenty of support and could get free legal representation on the strength of his case.

    1. To file a claim for unfair dismissal an employee has to first exhaust the company appeals procedure (if it exists).

      At this point we only have one side of the story. But sacking someone for organizing is not only illegal in the UK, there are courts to hear precisely that type of complaint.

      Unless the company has a very clear case they are going to get slammed here. And unlike in the US where the redress would only be damages, an industrial tribunal can order reinstatement and other remedies.

      Sacking a union organizer is a good way to end up unionized.

  2. Pretty sure that is unfair dismissal in the UK and that Pret would be found liable at an employment tribunal. If you’re sacked for forming or joining a union then it is automatically unfair under UK law, and you can sue your former employer and win. The guy would be in line for £19K or so payment if he takes the case to a tribunal within three months of being shown the door. The tribunals are set up so that an employee bringing a case does not face costs if (s)he loses, unless the tribunal determines the complaint is grossly unreasonable. If what you’re reporting is true, he should take them to a tribunal and win. Maybe Pret calculate it’s cheaper to break the law by sacking him without cause, and then foot the bill for his dismissal claim than to permit a unionised workforce or to pay a living wage — bit of a sucky company if it’s the latter.

    1. Was gonna say exactly the same. You beat me while I was googling unfair dismissal. UK law unambiguously protects the right of all and any employee to join a union. It is that simple.

    2. One problem about suing is that in the UK (according to what I’m told by friends and loved once who live there), people who drag their employers to court and win get blacklisted.

      Blacklisting means a lot of employers won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. So many people abstain for that reason. Personally, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t want to work for any of the crappy blacklisting employers anyway, so what’s the problem and sue ahead; but things are not always that simple, and people do tend to get attached to eating and keeping their homes

      1. I was asked at an interview whether I had ever taken a former employer to court, for any reason. I don’t think they’re supposed to ask, but that doesn’t really stop it.

      2. Blacklisting is also illegal, and any employer caught doing it is fined heavily. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but they always get caught eventually.

      3. Depends what you mean by blacklisted.

        A previous employer isn’t allowed to give a ‘negative’ reference – and there’d be no centralised record of you taking an employer to court (as far as I’m aware…). The worst that’s likely to happen is that if you use that employer as a reference (which would be a bit mad) they refuse to give you a reference.

        Really all you’re doing is creating a black hole in your work history.

          1. Depends. The point is there’s legal provision to prevent past employers telling new employers that you’re a waste of space.

            ie. if a new employer asks specifically what your attendance record is like, then the previous employer is of course inclined to answer, but it would have to be like

            “Jimmy had 3 sick days during his employment at Acme Co”


            “Jimmy is a slacker that’s always taking sick days – avoid”.

            Hopefully that makes sense. Other than that I don’t think they should be asking about your health, unless your previous employer is also your doctor :)

          2.  My girl friend lives in the UK, and she says that all employers (in her line of work, which has been university research and charities) insist on getting a reference from the current employer. This sounds pretty barbarian to me (I’d never even tell my current employer if I’m looking for another job before I hand in my resignation), but in one case she had to go through an extended interview process because her current employer (the Open University) told the prospective one (a charity in Oxford) she suffered from depression and had had some month’s absence. In the end she did get the job, though.

            But if you’re sure that passing on that kind of information is illegal, it’d be very helpful if you give me a link to the details. At the time, of course I remember it wasn’t very helpful at all that they did so.

          3. I don’t know for sure, I’m certainly no employment law expert – but it would seem unusual to me if they’re able to request or pass on medical information, because its confidential. Unless there’s some caveat im unaware of. They could certainly state that she was off work through illness, and give the number of days, but I think it’d be up to the new employer to find out why – as far as I’m aware.

            But references are very much the norm, however most will be requested after offering the position, to avoid the obvious, “oh, so you’re leaving?” questions from your boss.

          4. In the US, past employers will generally only confirm start and stop dates for employment, not because of government regulations, but to avoid lawsuits.

          5. I would have replied, “I’m sorry. It’s our policy to only give out dates of employment.”

  3. Man – I liked Pret.  My wife and I eat their food at least once a week.

    But I am also going to boycott it until they get the living wage and this guy gets reinstated if he wants to.  I will gladly pay the extra money for the folks working there to get a fair wage.

    I honestly don’t know how people who make these decisions sleep at night.

    1.  Every once in a while, you should go into a Pret and tell the manager why you’re boycotting the place.

    2. “I honestly don’t know how people who make these decisions sleep at night.”

      Their bed made of money seems to help them slumber.  And when they have trouble sleeping they wander downstairs and wake their butler to warm some milk for them.

    3.  They have no trouble sleeping at night because they have no conscience to bother them.  I’ve worked for/with people like that.  It’s amazing to see them in action.  When they deal with subordinates they’re like a cat with a mouse.  With their bosses they’re the oilier than a canned mackerel.  True sociopaths.

      1.  I rather think your diagnosis is somewhat simplistic. A huge number of people have been conditioned to think that business means “have no conscience”. It’s not helped by things like The Apprentice reinforcing such a view. Most people would show conscience when it came to say, their children, or their spouse.

  4. Reading the comments on the linked-through site, there was some kind of hearing internal to Pret that would have inclued Andrej, but which was changed at 24 hours notice with the result that he could not attend. In UK law you need to give 10 days written notice of an internal hearing regarding performance and you need to notify the person attending the hearing of their right to have a union member present with them (somewhat ironically in this case) – if it’s true that Pret scheduled some internal meeting regarding Andrej and then changed the date / venue with less than 10 days notice, the outcome of that hearing is again automatically unfair. — just sue the bastards

    1. “there was some kind of hearing internal to Pret that would have inclued Andrej, but which was changed at 24 hours notice with the result that he could not attend.”

      Fudge tried the same trick in Order of the Phoenix.

  5. Over here in the US, someone would probably organize a counter movement to support the business and their freedoms to decide what wage to pay…

    1. We’re all marxists over here :-D I think the point is more that Pret. can easily afford to provide a living wage for its employees, and that when the pay is close to the poverty line, the business actually faces a lot of costs associated with staff turnover and employment issues. What this guy was asking for would be about £2-3K extra salary a year, when you compare minimum wage to living wage in London. I bet it costs Pret far more than that ammount to defend and then lose a court case. The question for Pret is whey they decide to treat their employees like shit to hold onto a few thousand extra a year, while risking losing ten or twenty times that ammount if they’re prosecuted successfully?

      1. How many Pret employees are there in London? (I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it’s more than 20.)

        This is just the cost of business, to them. Here’s hoping it blows up in their faces in a massive way and spanks them for taking the risk that they wouldn’t get properly punished.

  6. For a company that (here in the US anyway) loudly advertises the fact that they give the day’s unsold food to the homeless (and i loved them for it) because “it’s the right thing to do”, the irony is deafening.

  7. It is interesting to read all the legal matters being discussed in light of the following quote from the PAMSU website:

    What makes PAMSU different?

    We don’t rely on the law

    1. And of course, “you didn’t build that” refers to your small business, not the infrastructure around it.

      Here’s the context that carefully selected quote came from:

      “/We don’t rely on the law/ or the goodwill of the company when it comes to fighting for the interests of Pret workers.

      “Instead, PAMSU believes all Pret workers—whether you’re a barista, team leader, kitchen staff or any other position—should come together to support each other. Only by standing together will we make sure we get the respect we deserve. /It’s only through solidarity that we’ll make Pret a better place to work./”

      1.  As your extended quote says, they chose to rely on getting the collective staff to support each other instead of relying on the law.  I fail to see how your carefully extended quote does anything to change the meaning of the text.  They go so far as to suggest that the law is interchangeable with the “goodwill” of the employer.  This shows a distinct level of disdain for the legal processes.

  8. I have long thought the anti-union movement is not just about money.  Corporations are willing to face fines and penalties, flout the law, and even dump millions into political campaigns, just to prevent their employees from unionizing.  They are sometimes willing to spend far more than they save.

    I think there’s a degree to which it’s about class.  It galls the executives to have to sit down and bargain with somebody who is middle-class, at best, and who may not even have a college education.  How dare they talk back to their betters?

    1. As the spin around Hostess over here demonstrated, the rules of discussion are that workers simply have to accept whatever the management offers and be grateful that they have jobs at all. The idea that management might actually make an offer so derisory that the workforce would refuse to accept it (you know, like the rights of any other supplier to the company) is treated as the worst form of lèse majesté.

  9. I discovered Pret a Manger while being stuck for a few hours at Heathrow….It was pretty nice, then my wife and I discovered the one on Union Square in NYC….same thing…good inexpensive fast food. Now I know the back ground, and I will never eat there again. Thanks for the info, Cory….

  10. He’d have a good case at any tribunal. It’d be interesting to hear which union he’s organising under. Certainly with Unite and GMB, they could fight a very effective legal battle on the story as it’s told above. 

  11. good luck. most people workin in pubs etc just about get minimum wage. asking for living wage is laughable in most places…

  12. It’s true that certain employment rights are enshrined in UK law. The big problem is finding out about them and then having the conversation with your employer. But if employees keep talking to each other, with luck the gains of previous generations will not be lost. My worry is that the post WW2 generation is dying and much that was gained after the war will just get rolled back, now. Certain employers are definitely getting pretty tricksy, I would say.

  13. This is very interesting. Pret A Manger appeared in Hong Kong about 10 years ago, and they must have 10 outlets by now. It sells overpriced sandwiches and seems to employ a lot of Filipinos. They use the term “passionate” a lot. 

    FYI: Hong Kong recently legislated for a minimum wage, and it was set at HKD28/hour (£2.25). I’d be surprised if PAM was paying much more than that. I doubt if it’s possible to purchase a sandwich for less than HKD28, so counter staff would need to work for an hour to buy a simple lunch. I’d be interested to know how long counter staff in London need to work to buy a sandwich. Anyone know? 

    1. I can only remember going to the one at Heathrow, which might have slightly higher prices, but I think a sandwich would be about £3-£5 (mostly £3-3.50, unless you’re finding the one with salmon and crayfish).

      Minimum wage is £6.19/hr.

      A sandwich from a supermarket is about £1-£4.  £1 gets you awful white bread with a single slice of ham, or a mean helping of grated cheese.

      1. Okay, so it would take a minimum wage employee there about 30 minutes to earn the money for a sandwich. In Hong Kong, it takes an hour. That is, I think, an interesting comparison. 

        Thanks for the data. 

  14. There’s a nice Halal cart guy at the corner of my office who makes a full plate of lamb rice with white, hot or BBQ sauce for five dollars US. It is three times the amount of food, and five times the flavour of a Pret sandwich. 

    Are there not as many of these type of businesses in London? I didn’t see as much street food last I was there, but I didn’t think to look.

        1. Well yeah, it is. Halal is a horrible method of killing animals. Just because we’re meat eating barbarians doesn’t mean we have to be cruel meat eating barbarians.

          1.  Halal and Kosher slaughter both kill animals only at the jugular vein which means they pass out straight away.  It’s been the kindest method for thousands of years and is still kinder then some methods.

  15. There’s a new (?) statement here:

    If this proves to be true, the shitstorm has been directed at the wrong person.

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