Restaurant boss U-turn after row over trial shift pay

Loui Blake at his plant-based Norwich restaurant, Erpingham House. Picture:: Chris Harvey

Loui Blake, who runs the plant-based Norwich restaurant, Erpingham House. He has changed his rules on paying for work experience following a complaint that provoked a social media backlash. - Credit: Archant

The owner of a Norwich vegan restaurant has agreed to pay for trial work shifts after suffering an "appalling" social media onslaught.

Loui Blake, who runs several businesses in the city including Erpingham House, in Tombland, was attacked on Twitter after details of the unpaid shifts were revealed.  

It came after 16-year-old Tobias Conway was given a trial session at the restaurant working as a kitchen porter. His mother Jenny said he worked for nearly four hours without being given any food - and did not get the job.

Afterwards, she took to Twitter to complain. However, she said she thought the backlash by people against Mr Blake was "appalling".

"The comments were very unpleasant and I tweeted the restaurant's statement as soon as I could as I didn't want it to be targeted," Mrs Conway said. 

"I didn't go direct to the restaurant to complain because I have a friend whose daughter had the same experience working unpaid. I thought my son should have been paid in kind, he worked for nearly four hours with no supper but he wanted the job.

"It was only afterwards that he was told he wouldn't be paid."

Mr Blake has now reviewed his policy and agreed to pay Tobias and those working trial shifts as part of an extended interview. He's also pledged to pay anyone who has done this work unpaid for him in the past - and is offering a free meal to all those affected.

Erpingham House, Norwich

Erpingham House in Norwich - Credit: Archant

Mr Blake said he had done all he could to address the issue but felt the comments on social media had gone too far.

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"I've been called a 'capitalist pig', 'scum' and an 'immoral fool.' I don't really think I've done anything to deserve that, I'm trying to do good for the community.

"People generally are so desperate to be enraged about something. Businesses like mine have been hard hit in Covid and yet there seems to be this perception that we are about greed and exploitation when in fact we are just trying to survive."

Erpingham House, Norwich

The statement issued by Erpingham House. - Credit: Supplied

Mrs Conway originally tweeted: "You got my son in to 'trial' as a kitchen porter, put him to pot wash for hours and didn't pay him minimum wage, feed him or even split tips.

"I would have hoped you would have had a better company ethos."

After the change in rules, she said: "I am really delighted, my son is happy and now working at KFC , I'm happy to have made one small change in the world."

It is often left to the employer to agree terms for work experience.

But, legally, someone doing an internship is entitled to be paid at least the national minimum age unless they're a student, in higher education or work shadowing, states Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.