FORMER employees of a Glasgow cafe who were made redundant two weeks after complaining about a number of alleged workplace issues have launched a fight for compensation.

Staff at The Glasvegan in St Enoch Square say they lost their jobs after submitting a collective complaint to former owner Arita Bezera citing concerns around poor working conditions, issues with contracts and pay discrepancies.

The grievance – which was signed by 80% of the workforce – raised 32 points ranging from claiming kitchen staff were being left working in temperatures of more than 40 degrees in the summer due to poor air conditioning to alleging that waiting staff were being unfairly blamed for till shortages.

The document also claimed that other workers were threatened with deductions from their pay for food waste, were told to pay for their own hygiene training and were made to work in a smoke-filled kitchen with no extraction fan.

Former head chef at the cafe, Kieran Coles, exclusively told the Glasgow Times he’s now struggling to survive after losing his position.

The National:

The 22-year-old, from Govanhill, said: “I’ve been left in a situation where I’m having to rely on Universal Credit to try and pay my bills. I worked at the cafe for over a year and there were a number of health and safety concerns that staff consistently raised with the owner, but nothing was ever done to address them.

“I was working in a kitchen in the basement with no ventilation or breaks, and it became intolerable. On hot days I would feel like I was going to pass out. Every time I brought up my concerns with the boss, they were just ignored. It was very much a case of just 'get on with the job and be quiet'.

“Staff morale was very low, and we felt there was no other option but to submit a formal grievance. We had no idea that just a few weeks later 21 staff members would be made redundant and left without any pay.

“I’m disgusted at how this was handled. To just sack staff via email without any consultation after we submitted a grievance is just appalling. We have now begun the appropriate steps to take the owner to a tribunal.”

The National:

Staff members say that two weeks after delivering the grievance to Bezera on October 28 last year, they were informed by email that they were to be made redundant as the business would close on November 27 due to financial difficulties.

Bezera then revealed two days later through a post on the venue’s Facebook page that she was willing to sell the lease. In a lengthy statement, she said that five and a half years remained on her agreement with the landlord and that she was ready to do a deal that would include fixtures, fittings, equipment, the name and the brand – sparking anger among the workers who had just lost their jobs.

A source said: “The legal claim is quite complex but in a nutshell under section 188 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, when more than 20 workers are made redundant, they must be given 30 days' notice of redundancy. Workers were only given 16 days as notice was given on November 11 and terminated on November 27.

“Staff believe they have grounds to pursue the former owner and want compensation for what they believe was a breach of employment law.”

The Glasgow Times understands ET1 forms have now been lodged by Thompsons Solicitors to start legal action and bring the matter before an employment tribunal.

Unite the Union, which represented the majority of the workforce, says its clients have firm grounds for a successful compensation claim.

Industrial organiser Bryan Simpson said: “To terminate workers without proper consultation a matter of days after they lodged serious complaints about conditions isn’t just morally repugnant, it’s unlawful.

“We are now escalating this dispute legally and industrially until our members receive the justice they deserve.”

Bezera was contacted for comment by the Glasgow Times.

She said: “The business failed due to the current economic situation. People don’t have spare money to spend, and bills went through the roof.

“I did everything I could to keep the business afloat, but it wasn’t enough. It was complete coincidence that the staff took out a grievance and then were made redundant.

"I just couldn’t keep the cafe open and pay their wages any longer.

“I feel awful for what’s happened, and I take full responsibility for everything that has gone on. I should have dealt with their concerns much sooner, but I was trying to run everything on my own and was overwhelmed. The money wasn’t there to fix the health and safety issues they raised in the grievance.

“I’m now in thousands and thousands of pounds of debt and I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my life. It’s taken a toll on my health, and I can only apologise for what has gone on. I started the business with the best of intentions and never wanted it to end up like this. I’m very sorry to the staff who have lost their jobs.”

The National:

The Glasgow Times understands that some of the employees have since been rehired by the new owners of The Glasvegan, who reopened the popular cafe on January 20 after taking over the lease.

The new management has no connection to Bezera or the issues that arose under her tenure. 

A spokesperson for the venue said it would be inappropriate to comment on anything that went on when they had no involvement in the business.