This is the time of year when the events and hospitality sectors are in full swing preparing for the summer season. In addition to the traditional highlights of Ascot, Wimbledon, Goodwood and Glyndebourne, a host of events up and down the country from music festivals to street parties, from food festivals to cultural events, come together to make summer in the UK one of the world’s most intensely busy markets.
And yet this year the industry is facing a combination of factors that together have the potential to grow into a crisis. Several factors have come together to cast a long shadow over the usual ebullience of the sector. A combination of Brexit, the President’s Club scandal, and the gender pay gap have ensured that a spotlight will be turned onto the many thousands of hard-working people who staff these events, and the fairness (or lack of it) of their employment.
First, Brexit: for over 20 years, the UK’s fast-growing economy, coupled with our seemingly endless thirst for new consumer experiences and service levels, have made the UK a magnet for young, ambitious European workers. While this trend is to be welcomed, it has resulted in two unintended consequences: first, it has kept a lid on wage inflation: Event staff are paid the same in 2018 as they were in 2008. Second, it has allowed employers to discard their scruples and turn a blind eye to their obligations. There is one factor that unites all event staff: their ability to tell a nightmare story of exploitation and sharp practice by temp agencies, event organisers, and venues.
Second, the President’s Club. In case you’ve been under a rock or a guest of Her Majesty for the past few months, here is a quick reminder: In February this year, a long-standing charity dinner was revealed by an undercover reporter on the Financial Times to be awash with groping, grabbing, and generally inappropriate behaviour by the all-male guests towards the all-female staff. The President’s Club closed itself down in the aftermath, and the incident was filed along with Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo as another nail in the coffin of male chauvinism.
And third, the gender pay gap. All UK companies employing more than 250 people are now obliged to publish the difference between their hourly pay for men and women. British companies have been found wanting, with an average national pay gap of 14%, and some sectors (banking, real estate) paying their women far less.
What these three elements have in common is that they reveal the regularity and normality of staff exploitation in UK industry. EU membership delivered an unending supply of new staff, and sexism ensured that at least half of those new staff were exploited.
But this may now be coming to an end. Brexit is less than a year away, and already there has been a slowing of European arrivals looking for work, and an uptick in Europeans leaving the UK. The government’s approach to the gender pay gap – to name-and-shame companies into addressing the issue – appears to be working. Certainly, the shame felt by British employers is palpable, and the actions they are promising to address the issue are meaningful.
Meanwhile, the events industry prepares for its customary summer of profitability. Except this year, event organisers might find that they face new pressures on how they hire, pay and treat the staff who run their events.
Dennis Oudejans is an entrepreneur who has built a career from starting and managing technology companies all over the world.
His early career was with Canon, where he established distribution channels, business units and subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East, before branching out to launch IT, Telecommunications, Fintech and Adtech companies around the world. Dennis is a seasoned business builder and has led the development of companies from conception to inception.
He founded Chooz after hearing stories of event staff being underpaid, harassed and exploited. Seizing the gap in the market that technology could bring, Chooz cuts out staffing agencies and allows staff and organisers to connect directly through the Chooz online platform, cutting costs for organisers, raising pay for staff, and ensuring all legal and employment law requirements are met.
Chooz has been up and running in the UK since 2017, and further international expansion is planned for the future.