“Whilst I was trying hard to return their money – which I could simply take it home without any problem – the Midland are taking my money illegally.”
On Thursday, 1st September 2011, I was supposed to come to the Manchester Employment Tribunal, attending the hearing against the Midland Hotel over my unpaid holiday, categorised as illegal deduction to my wages. Apparently the hearing didn’t happen as the Midland Hotel agreed to pay a settlement equalling the owed holiday pay. As the claim had been paid in full, the case had to be withdrawn. I am certainly happy to get my holiday pay. However, there is still a bit of anger to see the company that had been bullying me escaped the tribunal, so their illegal practice has never been heard, let alone punished.
When Geoff Brown (Secretary, TUC Manchester) invited me to come to The Friends Meeting House for the talk about “What Caused the Riots”, I was trying to find a link between my case against the Midland and the riots. People from wide range of background attended the talk, from trade unionists, socialist activists, journalists, barristers to human right activists to name a few. As they spoke out, it was clear; one of the causes of the riot is the constant suppression of people for all the injustice that have been going on around them for so long. They have been bullied by the system, but can’t do anything. That’s what exactly happening in the Midland. They have been breaching many employment codes, abusing their workers, but the workers can’t do anything.
My fight against the Midland kicked off in January this year when they refused to pay my holiday pay. They had stepped over the line too far, so I chose to fight. I told them that I will not work until my holiday is paid. Having been ignored, I then handed my resignation on 27th January 2011.
It’s not easy to quit the Midland as it’s my only source of income to survive in Manchester to finance my study. After almost two months of tireless job hunting, I finally got a job. Once I settled in the new job, I started to do some researches on how to bring the Midland to justice. At that time, I didn’t even know the tribunal term. I was gathering as much information as I could, from a fellow PhD studying Law, International Society, Citizen Advice Bureau to GM Pay and Employment Rights Advice Service, and bunch of internet documents.
My long search led me to a law firm, from which I then received legal aid. The fight then turned into a legal one. I filed the claim to the employment tribunal and subsequently sent a grievance letter to the Midland asking them to pay my unpaid holiday. They resisted and said they owed me nothing. They then ignored the deadline from the tribunal to prevent the case to go ahead. The Employment Tribunal then set the hearing for 1 September 2011. I sent the second letter, outlining the hours I worked and the holiday I got. Clearly there were seven months of my employment where I didn’t receive any holiday pay. They still resisted.
Interestingly, when comparing between my own records and the pay slips, there are two hours difference. I made a mistake when writing down my hours on the timesheet back in August 2010, making the Midland paid me two hours too much. However, I immediately contacted them about the mistake and asked them to make an adjustment on the next payment. I sent two emails to the payroll but didn’t get any response. I then emailed H & R, asking them to contact Payroll to correct the mistake. Again, my email was ignored. Yes, it’s just two hours work. It’s nothing for The Midland, but I don’t want to receive something, which is not my right.
Fortunately I still keep all the three emails. So, when this unpaid holiday case emerged, and I need to explain the total hours I worked at the Midland, I listed all these three email. By that time, they might realise that they’re dealing with a genuine guy. It’s very ironic. Whilst I was trying hard to return their money – which I could simply take it home without any problem – the Midland are taking my money illegally.
Having been denied and ignored for weeks, on Sunday 14th August 2011, I then created a Facebook page to push the campaign further and broaden the issues, not only about my unpaid holiday, but also revealing many misconducts practiced by the Midland (Read the article about “Stop The Midland Abusing Their Workers”).
The campaign did work. One day later, on Monday 15th August 2011, after weeks of silence, the Midland’s solicitor all of sudden sent me an email, saying that the Midland were ready to offer a settlement, which equals half of the claim. On that day ACAS was also trying to contact my mobile, and left three messages informing that the Midland had now offered a settlement.
On Monday midnight, my case was being published on “Right To Work” website (Read the article on “Tories Conference Hotel Faces Tribunal”). Immediately after that publication on Tuesday, 16th August 2011, in the morning, the Midland sent me another email (even before I replied the first email), saying that they’re now ready to offer a full claim, but I have to agree not to speak about the Midland and their staffs (clauses 4 and 5), and imposed a deadline by Thursday 12 noon. They had three months to prevent the hearing and now they were forcing me to make decision in a very tight time. Where were they in the past three months? Later that night I told ACAS, I need time to think.
Wednesday, 17th August 2011, in the morning, ACAS informed me that the Midland now agreed to remove clauses 4 and 5 (gagging order), and extended the deadline to Thursday 18th August 2011. I ignored their deadline and went to the Friends Meeting House to attend the talk and seek some advises. I received brilliant support from the forum. However, as the Midland had agreed to pay the claim in full and the gagging order had been removed, I had no choice but to accept the settlement. Friday, 19th August 2011, the settlement term was agreed.
Honestly I really wanted to see them standing before the tribunal, and convicted guilty. However the claim has been paid in full and I couldn’t push the hearing. Even though they managed to escape the tribunal, this is a clear victory in two ways. First, I got my holiday pay in full. Second, they failed to suppress one of my basic human rights, the freedom of speech.
There are many other workers in similar circumstances like me. Almost all the staffs at the Midland are on casual contract, if not all. People come and go. Countless casual workers have been working in the Conference and Banqueting Department at the Midland. Most of them came in December to cover the very busy Christmas period, but are then gone after New Year as the hotel became quite again. Did they ever get their holiday pay? The Midland certainly know the answer. If someone like me who had been working there over a year was still denied a holiday, what should we expect for those who just work in a short period of time, like Christmas? If we trace the salary records of all these casual workers few years back, we would all be surprised on how much money the Midland have been cashing illegally through their holidays.
Parts of this article appears on RTW website, “Student beats The Midland Hotel in fight over holiday pay”.