Isolation – growing pings of the opening economy

By Kate Dranginis, The Sustainable Restaurant Association 

 As the economy is opening up, we’re often hearing about hospitality venues struggling with staff members being ‘pinged’ by Track and Trace apps and being forced to isolate despite being symptomless and providing negative tests. Of course, the Track and Trace apps are to keep us as safe as possible, but it’s the amount of pings that are causing the issue. It’s been annoying for customers with longstanding plans, worrying for already challenged businesses, and it’s also been a real financial blow for staff too. 

Thankfully, many hospitality workers were (and still are being) supported through the pandemic by furlough. However, many were not and many more lost a real chunk of their earnings. Hospitality workers often work a good deal more than their contracted hours, and these hours are not always reflected in furlough allowances. Additionally, the importance of tips hasn’t been considered – and in some venues, tips can reliably be an extra 40% of your wage and therefore become part your budget.  

Now, after over a year of cut earnings, staff are again being financially hit by the pandemic by being forced to isolate. The isolation period can last up to 10 days, and if that falls badly around the hours that a venue operates, or staff shift patterns, staff can lose up to two weeks’ worth of work. That can be wages and it will almost definitely be tips, meaning that staff have lost a large amount of their income for the month.  

So what are staff and employers to do? 

Furlough was originally ‘not designed with isolation in mind’ however, the Treasury have now confirmed it can be used to cover lost earnings. But, of course not all staff are eligible for furlough in their current employment, staff must have been employed prior to 2nd March and those that commenced their employment after aren’t supported.  Statutory sick pay has been earmarked for those in isolation, however, it’s much lower than a full-time wage. There’s some very tricky maths to work out for payments regarding the number of days worked in an average week, operating days of a venue, and the day the ping/positive result was received. This means it’s highly unlikely that a staff member will be in receipt of the full £96 a week. 

However, there is a £500 grant to cover isolation and loss of earnings. In most cases, this is the saving grace. But, it should be noted that staff cannot be receive any other payment during this time SSP/wages/salary/holiday pay etc, so a full-time staff member who loses two weeks’ worth of work is likely to still be out of pocket, and those in management positions, are potentially missing out quite significantly. 

I work part-time in a bar and restaurant in Edinburgh and have friends and contacts in good number of hospitality venues. There are no venues that I know of that haven’t been affected by this issue. In the worst situations, being pinged (even with staff testing negative) has caused a full shut-down for 10 days (and more than once in some cases). In other cases – such as the in the bar I manage – we’ve had certain staff members pinged, and as a result, other staff members had to go above and beyond to fill in the gaps on the rota – during an already exceptionally busy and understaffed time.  

Luckily, hospitality is an inherently sociable industry, so favours are being called in from friends to cover gaps in staffing, whether from isolation or staffing shortages. There is also a real sense of ‘we’re in this together’. Whereas in normal times a venue closure would be a worrying sign, it’s now met with nothing but well-wishes for the health and safety of the staff and cheerful ‘can’t wait to come back!’ comments from customers. 

With the introduction of new rules around double-vaccinated staff members no longer being required to isolate after a ping, provided they test negative, hopefully this organisational and financial headache is drawing to its end.  

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