No one would be foolish enough to suggest that Wetherspoons’ climbdown yesterday over paying their workers was prompted by it, but some people in Crystal Palace made what they think of the odious Tim Martin plain on Tuesday night as they daubed his pub on the Triangle with a couple of direct messages.
Martin’s influence on this nation’s life over the past four years has been disproportionate to his place in society, and the public outcry this week was massive when the multi-millionaire pub chain owner declared that he would not be paying his staff for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown. Instead, he suggested helpfully, they should seek work as shelf-stackers with local supermarkets. Such a nice chap.
Martin, of course, had argued against any lockdown at all, arguing that there was some kind of Blitz spirit that could be engendered in pubs – his pubs, of course – that would see off the coronavirus. There is more than a smidgeon of suspicion that the Brexit buffoons in the government might have delayed the lockdown by a day or so because of lobbying from vested business interests such as Martin.
And when Martin did perform a U-turn over paying his staff their wages, it came only after some deal was done with government so that the tax-payers will foot the bill for 80 per cent of Wetherspoons staff wages.
The public reaction against some businesses after the covid-19 quarantine period is over will be interesting to observe, with boycotts already being called for against ‘Spoons and Sports Direct, where owner Mike Ashley tried to keep his stores open and claim that his sports shop staff were somehow “essential workers” in the midst of the pandemic emergency.
In Croydon, there have been reports that – despite government advice that most construction sites must observe the lockdown – the council-owned, loss-making house-builder Brick by Brick was continuing work even yesterday, with questions over whether workers were properly observing the physical distancing rules.
But it is ‘Spoons that has attracted most public anger.
People realise that this is the toughest of times for business, but they have responded with widespread disgust at the “I’m alright Jack” attitudes of some bosses, and the disparity between the huge wealth of the business owners and the low-paid staff on whose backs the profits are made.
Wetherspoons’ turnover was £1.8billion last year, and Martin, as founder and chief exec, has accumulated a personal fortune approaching £500million. Most of the pub chain’s staff are on minimum wage, and even with the government package they will have to wait until May to get furlough support.
Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich, yesterday tweeted his disgust at Martin’s conduct: “The lack of basic humanity from the owner of JD Wetherspoon must call into question the kind of society and economy we have created. One where exploitative practices are rewarded with £millions whilst frontline nurses and carers scrape by for a living.”
Lewis was among the signatories of the letter to Martin from parliamentarians – along with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Mhairi Black of the SNP, Stephen Kinnock and Margaret Hodge, though none of Croydon’s three MPs – which called for fair treatment of Wetherspoons’ staff.
“You employ 40,000 wonderful workers whose skills, hard work and enthusiasm are cherished by the country. They have also generated record profits for your company,” the letter said.
“However, Wetherspoons has fallen short in supporting these workers at a time of crisis. Allowing thousands of people to go penniless for a prolonged period of time is disgraceful.”
The letter also called on Martin to ensure he paid all the staff’s bonuses in full, and that he should use his own personal wealth to make up the shortfall in pay between the 80 per cent provided by the government and the full amount. “Losing 20 per cent for your already low-paid staff will push some into real hardship,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, back at The Postal Order – or The Brexit Arms, as some know it on the Crystal Palace Triangle – there was more activity later yesterday, when a Rentokil van pulled up outside.
Perhaps Martin is not the only rat sniffing around the ‘Spoons?
- Help support Inside Croydon’s award-winning, news-breaking journalism, and get money-off offers, exclusive content and priority booking for special events. Click here to find out more
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or what to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- Inside Croydon named Journalist of the Year at 2018 Anna Kennedy Online Autism Heroes Awards
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: For three consecutive years, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Inside Croydon has been the source for award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- Inside Croydon had 1.6million pages viewed by 721,000 unique visitors in 2019