You break it, your waiter pays for it
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You break it, your waiter pays for it

As anyone who has every worked tables in a restaurant will know, waiters and waitresses are often on the receiving of some pretty unpalatable treatment at the hands of restaurant owners and managers.

Waiter carrying plates with meat dish on some festive event
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Since 2007, the working conditions and remuneration of waiters in South Africa changed with the introduction of the Sectoral Determination 14, as an addition to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and kudos to those establishments which are complying, but the reality is that many restaurants are blatantly flaunting many or all of its provisions.

Often a waiter or waitress contacts me themselves, on condition of anonymity. That happened recently in the case of a Stellenbosch restaurant which was transgressing several legal provisions, including docking tips on credit card payments and making the waiters pay for their work aprons to be washed and ironed for each shift.

Sometimes it’s the parent who feels outraged on their child’s behalf. I recently received the following email from the father of a Durban waitress:

"Dear Wendy,

I was wondering if you can assist. I am trying to find out what the legal requirements are for the payment and deductions of waitron staff are. I request this on a level of anonymity as I know my daughter would be dismissed for something stupid if it was found out I had complained.

My daughter is currently working as a waitress at a Durban restaurant. The waiters are not paid any basic salary but the following is deducted from their tips.

R30 per shift for breakages whether they have breakages or not – If they work a double shift of Lunch and Dinner then R60.00 is deducted for the day.

Card payment bank Charges – The full amount of the card payment bank charges and not only the tip portion is deducted from their tips.

The restaurant has a dress code which the waitron staff have to purchase themselves. They have to supply their own cleaning cloths (dish towels) and they have to wash these themselves and allowing for washing they would need ± 6 cloths.

They have to supply their own wine bottle openers – A good quality one can be in the region of R100. They are supplied with one apron, which they are required to wash."

I have had quite a few of these reports over the years, and I have to say this is the worst case of waiter exploitation I’ve ever received.

I’m surprised that the restaurant owner doesn’t make them wash and iron the tablecloths and serviettes! Essentially, the owner is paying the waiters not one cent, and using their tips to pay for some of his overheads. It’s beyond outrageous.

Some of those waiters are part-timers, but others are supporting their families on the tips they get.

I responded to that father, asking for more info, but he went quiet on me. I think he’s afraid it’s going to backfire on his daughter. So sad.

I sought the opinion of labour lawyer Michael Bagraim, and, as expected, all of that is illegal in terms of the Sectoral Determination for the Hospitality Industry.

Every single waiter must be paid in terms of the Sectoral Determination as outlined by the Government Gazette and Sectoral Determination 14 Hospitality Sector South Africa, Bagraim said.

This is updated from time to time and can be confirmed as per the Government Gazette.

No waiter can earn below the national minimum wage which is R20 per hour and a minimum of four hours per day. There can be NO tip deductions unless specifically agreed in writing.

The uniforms must be paid for by the employer and any equipment, such as cleaning cloths, must be supplied and cleaned by the employer. 

The equipment such as wine bottle openers must be paid for by the employer. If this is not being done, then it should be reported to the Department of Labour and an inspector would come out.

As long as those being exploited keep quiet out of fear, nothing will change.

When I went public with the exploitation of the staff of that Stellenbosch restaurant - I got a comment from the owner. Of course, things changed.

So, I urge staffers to speak to their colleagues and come forward. Tell me about what’s going on, anonymously if you like, and I’ll challenge the restaurant.

Or lay a complaint with the CCMA - the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration.

And those of us who support these restaurants should consider asking the manager or owner about how they treat their staff. Ask if they get all their tips or whether an amount is deduced to cover the bank charges and other things.

Here’s the thing - apart from not wanting to support exploitation, my question is always this: if a company is willing to flout the law in one respect, I don’t trust them not to cut other corners - with food integrity, the cold chain, hygiene practices, and all rest.

Read: Forget phishing; 'vishing' is the new bank fraud threat

To contact Wendy, go to her Facebook page and click on the send email tab.

In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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