STUC: Brassica debacle shows employability scheme businesses use public sector to 'launder' unfair work

Workers denied pay they say is still owed to them after the collapse of the Dundee business

  • Workers, many of whom were hired through a Council employability scheme, claim they are owed almost £8000 in unpaid wages and other payments from Brassica, which went into liquidation in 2018
  • One of Brassica’s owners, Dr Rami Sarraf, is now opening a new venture on the same site called Brassica Ecosse.
  • Dundee City Council licensing board voted to transfer the license to the new Brassica outfit despite angry protests from Union activists
  • The STUC said the case was “an excellent example of the public sector funding, or at least legitimising, the integration of a new pliable generation into the precarious conditions of hospitality and service work”.

THE Scottish Trade Union Congress has warned that employability schemes are allowing private firms to "launder their unfair working practices" through the public sector.

The warning comes amid an escalating row between former workers of the Brassica restaurant in Dundee, which went into liquidation in 2018, and one of its former owners, Dr Rami Sarraf, who is now opening a new venture on the same site through a new company, Brassica Ecosse.

Workers claim they are owed at least £7936 in unpaid wages from the collapse. Many of them were hired through a Dundee City Council (DCC) employability scheme, designed to match unemployed people with businesses seeking workers.

Last week (Thursday 17 January) DCC's licensing board voted to transfer Brassica’s restaurant licence to the new Brassica Ecosse outfit. The decision was met by angry protests from Union activists, campaigning for the payment of money owed to the workers, forcibly ejected, after being told the premises were "private property".

Read more: Global inequality report spurs demands for Scottish and UK governments to take action

Dundee City Council were contacted for comment on the Brassica affair but did not respond.

An STUC spokesperson said: "In February, Dundee Jobs tweeted a job advert for Chef de Partie at the restaurant. The local authority put a call out at the end of March calling on unemployed Tayside residents to join the ‘HospitaliTAY programme being delivered in partnership with Brassica (a new high end Cocktail Bar and Restaurant)’. The course would provide participants with ‘industry recognised skills, employability skills and a guaranteed interview for a position with Brassica’.

"It is a tempting symbol for employability schemes: show unemployed workers their future workplaces, line them up to work as soon as the door opens, and let them 'discover work' in an environment where they meet their future boss – without experiencing who controls the conditions under which they may come in and out the company’s door."

This model of recruitment was now in serious question, the STUC spokesperson said, because of the way it serves the interests of employers over employees.

They said: "From consultation to delivery, employability schemes meet the needs of the companies, who are free to take the offer or leave it. The schemes are often seen as positive examples of encouraging young people in to work who would otherwise not be ‘given a chance’. This might be the case in some, however, this case demonstrates the flip side - it is an excellent example of the public sector funding, or at least legitimising, the integration of a new pliable generation into the precarious conditions of hospitality and service work."

They further said that the practice clashed with the Scottish Government's Fair Work agenda, introduced in November 2018.

Read more: Glasgow women’s strike gets results as Council agrees to £500 million pay-out

Measures in the new Fair Work agreement include a guaranteed living wage for employees, an agreement that agency workers will not be used to undermine industrial action, respect for the rights of unions to engage in legal industrial action, the development of 'modern apprenticeships', and a clampdown on excessive hours and a commitment to flexible work.

The STUC spokesperson added: "The Scottish Government has committed to a Fair Work agenda, along with the STUC, and has called on Scotland’s employers to commit to the Fair Work Framework. But examples like this highlight how employers are using the public sector to essentially launder their unfair working practices.

"Whilst there are many initiatives across the country which attempt to shore up the employability skills of Scotland’s workforce; it is only the workers themselves, via their trade unions, who point to the dearth of ‘employerability’ skills in Scotland.  Encouraging, or cajoling, young people in to employment which lacks basic employer accountability is a terrible example to set for the next generation."

A Unite organiser said: "The decision by the licensing board to grant Rami Sarraf a license is an affront to the hard-working people of Dundee, who these councillors are supposed to represent."

Read more: 'Fair work must begin here': Scot Gov reaches new respect accord with civil service union

The original Brassica business went into liquidation in October. Shortly afterwards, Sarraf, who is one of Scotland's wealthiest dentists, reported his partner in the firm to the police for alleged fraud.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While employment law is reserved, the Scottish Government is using all powers at its disposal to promote fair work and protect the rights of workers and is committed to delivering a high quality, distinctly Scottish employability service that maximises delivery of real and sustained job outcomes. We are aware that proceedings may be ongoing in relation to this case and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Police Scotland have said that there was no ongoing investigation against Sarraf, but that enquiries into his business partner at Brassica continued.

A spokesperson said: "Police Scotland can confirm it is investigating an allegation of fraud pertaining to the former Brassica Restaurant in Shore Terrace, Dundee. Enquiries are ongoing."

However, a former employee at Brassica has shown a complaint they made both to Dundee City Council and to Police Scotland concerning £2000 of unpaid wages. Police Scotland did not respond to requests for information made on this matter.

Picture courtesy: Dundee Unite Hospitality

COMMONSPACE FORUM 31 January:100 years on – Will the Clyde run Red again?