Credit: abandonshipbar via Instagram

Workers at controversial bar Abandoned Ship made redundant

By Kimberley Mannion

The Glasgow Guardian speaks to one University of Glasgow student who has been laid off from the bar weeks after assurance their job was safe.

Controversial Glasgow bar Abandoned Ship has handed its workers redundancy notices and closed its doors with immediate effect less than two weeks after assuring staff their jobs were safe.

Workers at Abandoned Ship formed a picket line with Unite the Union outside the bar in January protesting working conditions and submitted a collective grievance along with staff at 13 other bars in Glasgow and Dundee also owned by the group MacMerry 300, which is now trading as Belford.

The actions were taken as a result of complaints regarding lack of Covid-19 safety measures in place to protect staff and possible positive Covid-19 cases being pressured to come in to work, along with a host of other problems relating to staff contracts, pensions and sick pay, as Abandoned Ship workers informed The Glasgow Guardian at the time.

Following this, bar owner Phil Donaldson commissioned an independent report into the alleged toxic working culture at MacMerry by an independent HR firm which found complaints to be “not upheld”, though has refused to publish the report.

Staff at Abandoned Ship had been promised their jobs were safe less than two weeks before receiving their one week redundancy notice on Monday 4 July.

The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Victor Mulsant, who has just graduated from the University of Glasgow in Politics and has been working part-time at Abandoned Ship since April this year.

Victor describes how although other businesses belonging to Abandoned Ship owner Phil Donaldson closed down in the weeks leading up to the redundancy notice after HMRC sought to shut down his trading company MacMerry 300 due to reported six-figure tax debts, it was still unexpected since management had reassured Abandoned Ship jobs were safe because it “belonged to another company than the one facing all the lawsuits.”

Days after HMRC’s notice, Donaldson reportedly transferred all of MacMerry 300’s assets to Belford Ltd.

“Obviously, knowing that it was still the same people in charge, I don’t think any of us were a hundred percent confident in their word actually meaning anything. But we also had no reason to believe they’d close the venue on such short notice,” Victor continued.

Confusion began when the rota for the week beginning Monday 4 July was deleted, before being re-uploaded with Monday and Tuesday scored off. Staff had been told by the general manager a few weeks ago that the premises would be closing for refurbishment at some point, though no further details were given, adding to the confusion. Finally the notices were sent out on Monday morning and it became clear Abandoned Ship had closed its doors for the last time on Sunday night. 

In the redundancy notice email, seen by The Glasgow Guardian, owner Phil Donaldson writes that they were left with no option but to close the bar “due to extremely challenging circumstances”. Victor described this as: “pretty hilarious because obviously it does not mean anything, and apparently we weren’t worth being told why [the bar was closing]”.

While staff were being kept in the dark over the situation, bins stopped being collected from the bar in the final week and lights went out in the middle of one evening due to unpaid bills. 

Victor told The Glasgow Guardian that although he was not a member of staff when Abandoned Ship first attracted controversy in January, nothing he witnessed during his months working there would suggest the issues raised in the grievance had been improved upon. 

He said staff were “continuously ignored” by senior management when, aware the place was not doing well, they tried to suggest ideas and initiatives to improve things, and instead were “micromanaged”.

“Senior management made decisions no one asked for or thought were good, and they consistently shut down initiatives that could have given the place a chance”, despite the fact they barely ever visited the bar, Victor continued.

Phil Donaldson said of the closure: “Due to extremely challenging trading conditions we are no longer in a position to carry on trading at these two venues [Abandoned Ship in both Glasgow and London]. Coming out of Covid, the rise in commercial bills and product prices mixed with the constant barrage of negative press from the newspapers it has become impossible to carry on trading.”

Unite Hospitality Glasgow branded Donaldson “a coward” for his handling of the Abandoned Ship redundancies. 

The hospitality union condemned another popular bar in Glasgow for its treatment of staff just a week later, this time Broadcast on Sauchiehall Street. Staff have submitted a collective grievance, similar to the one penned to Abandoned Ship in January.

Unite the Union allege that signatories were subsequently removed from the rota and told they no longer have a job, a situation it labels “trade union victimisation”. However, it has since stated one of these members has now been reinstated.

The grievance asks for: security staff on the premises of Broadcast from 8pm, an investigation into health and safety concern, more transparency surrounding pay with outstanding holiday pay to be balanced out, and all staff to be handed legally valid employment contracts, among other demands.


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