Workers and Community protest wage theft at Sheffield Papa John’s

Workers and ex-workers at Papa John’s were joined by community supporters (including Olivia Blake MP) today (Saturday) outside Papa John’s on Ecclesall Road to demand unpaid wages.

Workers were demanding wages owed to them whilst they worked for a previous franchise owner. Workers complained they were owed wages for work completed before the franchise was transferred from previous owner, Tofur Ali, in June. Some claim their wages for this period amounted to less than the legal minimum wage. 

Workers said that they had faced unsanitary conditions including no access to private toilets, and no breaks during long shifts whilst the store remained open throughout the lockdown.

On 27 June 2020, workers arrived to find their store was closed. Workers claimed they were not told that the store would be closed temporarily and the franchise, which covers all Sheffield Papa John's stores, had been transferred to a new franchisee. The previous franchisee, Tofur Ali is disqualified from acting as a company director for conduct with another company(2). 

In the month since, Tofur Ali has not paid workers the full pay they are owed, including all hourly wages at the legal minimum wage and delivery allowances. Some workers said they will be unable to pay rent and bills next week if they are not paid. They were willing to show evidence of the hours worked and amounts paid.

Karen Cabajar, a former worker at Papa John’s, and member of the Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) (3), who is still owed money said: “I really thought that we would just have to move on and forget about what happened. It feels so reassuring to come together with my coworkers, with the support of the union and wider Sheffield community. It is important for workers and employers across Sheffield to see this action so that they know that it is unacceptable to treat workers this way and there will always be consequences. My message to other workers would be to contact Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise. (4) There are people who will support you to get the treatment that you deserve.”

Ian Hodson, President of the BFAWU, the Papa John’s workers’ union, said: “Papa John’s states on its website: ‘People Are Priority Always’. This is a hollow statement when these workers were willing to put themselves and their families at risk by working during lockdown and Papa John’s repays them - by not paying them! As a result of the action, the current franchise owner has agreed to meet the union on Monday at 10am to resolve the issue and pay what is owed.”

Campaigners said the actions of Papa John’s mirrored those in Leicester where injustice in the labour market, with powerful corporations able to absolve themselves of responsibility for what happened in their supply chains, were being highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Paul Blomfiend MP (Sheffield Central), said: “The Covid crisis has highlighted the exploitation facing too many workers, particularly in the food and drink sector. As we look to the future people expect things to change and they must. Companies like Papa Johns must treat their staff fairly.”

In 2017, researchers from Middlesex University estimated that wage theft, where workers are not paid wages they are owed or unlawful deductions are made, is widespread across the country with at least 2 million workers in Britain losing over £3 billion in unpaid holiday pay and wages each year. (5) It is said to particularly affect the low paid and those on insecure contracts. 

Major new research looking at the factors that have made the Sheffield City Region, the UK’s “Low Pay Capital” will be launched this week (6). The research by academics at Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire and Manchester Metropolitan Universities will be discussed during an online zoom event “Precarity is the Pandemic” at 7pm Wednesday 29 July 2020) organised by Sheffield Trades Council and anti-poverty group War on Want.

Dr Bob Jeffrey, a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam and a lead researcher on low pay in Sheffield said: “The situation faced by these workers at Papa John's is emblematic of the wider conditions faced by low paid and precarious workers that we document in our report. Labour market deregulation, a lack of enforceable employment rights and the absence of trade unions gives unscrupulous employers a blank cheque to withhold legal entitlements to breaks, fail to follow health and safety rules, even fail to provide toilet access, or just plain and simple illegal non-payment of wages owed.”

Workers who are facing issues such as wage theft, low pay and health and safety concerns can get in touch with Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise via Facebook, Twitter (@SheffPayRise) or by email (sheffieldneedsapayrise@gmail.com).

Notes to editors: For further information please get in touch with Rohan Kon, Organiser with Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise on rohankon@hotmail.co.uk / Mobile: 07747004870 

  1. High res photos from the protest are available here: https://bit.ly/SNAPFlickr
  2. Information relating to Tofur Ali’s disqualification is available here: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/disqualified-officers/natural/B0iwNT657driOOKFR1AAxZJ2OcQ
  3. The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union [BFAWU] is the largest independent trade union in the food sector in the British Isles, and supports workers across the food manufacturing, fast food and hospitality industries.
  4. Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise is a campaign bringing together low wage workers to demand fair pay, hours and union rights. It is supported by The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and Sheffield TUC (Trades Union Council).
  5. See Unpaid Britain: wage default in the British labour market Nick Clark and Eva Herman, Middlesex University November 2017  https://www.mdx.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/440531/Final-Unpaid-Britain-report.pdf
  6. Embargoed copies of the research “Tackling Labour Market Injustice and Organising Workers: The view from a northern Heartland” and Executive Summary and accompanying press release are available here: https://bit.ly/EmbargoTacklingInjustice