The owner of a Kidderminster desserts cafe has been accused of “modern slavery” for making inexperienced new staff undergo seven days of unpaid training, amid claims the practice could be illegal.
Jobseekers hoping to work at Delicious Desserts in New Road will have to agree to the unpaid training package, totalling 35 hours, unless they are experienced at creating high quality desserts in similar establishments, said owner Abz Perveaz.
He said more than 120 people had already applied for the vacant shop assistant posts, advertised this week on jobs site Indeed.
“More than half of them are inexperienced and say they are willing to undertake the seven days training, as stated in the job advert. It is the necessary time to get them ready for the demands of the job, and to be able to serve every dessert perfectly,” said Mr Perveaz.
However, the length of the unpaid training could fall foul of minimum wage laws, say local activists, and has been described as “exploitative” and “immoral”.
Wyre Forest Labour secretary Ben Davies said expecting anyone to work for free in this way was outrageous. “This is just not on. It is an example of young workers desperate for a job being exploited to do 35 hours of work for free. They are being trained on the job, just like in any other job. This is almost certainly unlawful.”
He added: “This is not about villifying an individual or business, but about ensuring employees are paid what they have rightly earned.”
Mr Davies added the case highlighted a worrying rise in the gig economy locally, in which people were offered insecure work with limited rights. “People are willing to accept things where in past times they would have said ‘no chance’. It’s not right to exploit anyone in this way.”
A spokesman for USDAW, the shop workers’ union, said: “We can’t comment on this specific case because we’re not aware of all the circumstances. However, generally training counts as working time under the National Minimum Wage regulations and we would expect employers to pay workers their full rate of pay for any hours spent on training that they are required to undertake for their job, including induction training.”
Mr Perveaz, who opened Delicious Desserts last summer, said he was very keen to make the business a success and was working hard to recruit the right calibre of staff.
Currently open in the evenings only, and relying mainly on home delivery, he now wants to open in the afternoon as well, hence his recruitment drive. He hopes by doing so he can fend off the competition from recently opened rivals Pudz and Delightful Desserts, also in Kidderminster, and make the business a success.
“The training here is done on a one-to-one basis. People think it is very easy to prepare a full range of desserts to the high standard our customers expect, but it is not. During training a lot of food is wasted because I will not be happy to serve anything the trainees prepare; they will have to practise and practise to get everything just right.”
New staff also learn about health and safety requirements and customer service, cleaning and food preparation – but do not, according to Mr Perveaz, produce any desserts for customers.
The advert for current vacancies, posted on popular jobs site Indeed, is for part time and full time experienced staff.
“The right person must have a genuine passion for desserts with high quality customer service skills and ability to anticipate customers’ needs. Shifts are available from 12pm to 10.30pm, seven days a week.”
The contentious sentence adds:
“Inexperienced candidates are also welcome but need 7 days unpaid training.”
New staff who were recruited to the shop when it opened last summer also had to undergo unpaid training sessions. Those who have worked in other food industries, including cafes and pubs, also have to agree to undergo training before they are taken on, said Mr Perveaz.
The only new staff exempt from the training are those who can demonstrate experience of working in other pudding shops, said Mr Perveaz.
He said he had been advised that as long as the trainees were not doing productive work it was fine not to pay them.
A posting of the advert on a local Facebook group by resident James Rowlands sparked a flurry of comments.
James said he wanted to raise the issue after seeing the advert: “I know how hard it is for people working on low wages. Not to pay at all is well bad, it’s just so wrong.”
Company director Hannah Mcleod Lovell said: “As a business owner myself I have never understood this (approach). The jobs these people do are the jobs that help you build your business. I would never expect someone to work for me and not get paid for it. Life is tough as it is.”
Nick Hilton added: “If they were competent business people, a well structured interview process with a couple of hours on-the-job experience to see if they were the right person for their business and, just as important, if the business was right for the candidate, should be enough. Having someone work in your shop for seven days without pay is both immoral and illegal.”
Some commenters defended the practice, arguing it sounded like a fair deal for new employees. “They get thorough training – I don’t see the problem,” said one resident.
Another said: “If they are providing good training and giving someone a new career option, I think it sounds fair enough.”
What do you think? Would you be prepared to undergo seven days of unpaid work to secure a job? Is this exploitative, or a fair opportunity?