Bar staff ‘will not finish work until 4.45am’ under new law – with no extra pay

A trade unionist has voiced concerns about the coming changes to Northern Ireland’s pub closing times.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 9:51 am

The Assembly gave a cross-party thumbs up to the move on Tuesday, and the changes should largely take effect in autumn.

It means that, on 104 occasions throughout the year, last orders will be changed from 1am for larger bars and hotels (with another half an hour for drinking-up) to instead be a 2am last orders (with a full hour for drinking-up).

This means customers can stay on the premises until 3am, instead of having to leave at 1.30am.

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However, smaller pubs will be limited to 1am last orders.

Sunday opening hours will be the same as any other night.

Currently pubs are restricted to 10pm generally, or midnight if they are granted extra hours.

Cinemas can sell booze until 11pm

Compulsory early closing of pubs during the Easter holidays is effectively ended.

Unite the Union’s hospitality organiser Neil Moore said he has about 1,500 NI members who could be affected.

The union only started organising pubs in the last couple of years, and in Belfast alone the number of Unite pub members has gone from 50 to 500 in that time.

The union had wanted last orders to be extended to 2am, but ONLY IF the staff were getting a special late night pay bonus (of at least time-and-a-half during the latter hours of their shift).

This used to be commonplace, Mr Moore said, but has fallen by the wayside over the last two decades.

An effort to amend the legislation to add this clause to the bill was rebuffed, he said, on the grounds that it was “outside the competence” of the bill.

The union had also opposed stretching out drinking-up time to one hour from half-an-hour.

Unite had surveyed members in Belfast and found “the average finish time including cleaning up when you had customers-out at 1.30am was 3.15am”, he said.

With the new later hours, that would mean a finish time of 4.45am – and those same workers “quite often at the weekend would be expected to come back in at 10.30am or 11am the next morning”.

It could also present dangers for workers going home at that time, particularly lone women.

The idea of extending the drinking-up time was “well-intentioned” said Mr Moore, in that it would stagger the times at which drinkers filter out of the bar, meaning less of a rush at taxi ranks and takeaways.

But Mr Moore does not believe this will actually happen.

“It’s not going to have the effect they think it’s going to have,” he said.

“In reality, you know yourself from being in a pub at last orders – people order two pints just before it closes because they have that time to get through it of half-an-hour.”

Instead, Mr Moore thinks that with a full hour to stay in the pub until kicking-out time, people will just order four drinks at last orders – and then leave all at once at 3am, even more inebriated.

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