Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin has told staff who might not be paid during lockdown to 'go work at Tesco'

Founder of Wetherspoons Tim Martin has been widely criticised for refusing to pay staff until the government fulfils its promise to cover 80% of the wages of workers (Getty Images)

Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin has been widely criticised after he told employees of the popular pub chain to "go work at Tesco" while pubs are closed, warning them that they could face delays over pay.

Wetherspoons shut all of its pubs on Friday following the introduction of social-distancing measures from the government.

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'Go work at Tesco'

In a video message to Wetherspoons' 40,000 employees Mr Martin hinted that they could find employment at supermarkets while the measure was in place

Though Mr Martin claimed that staff would be paid for work carried out until pubs were closed last Friday, the company would not be paying staff any more until the UK Government fulfils its promise to cover 80% of the wages of workers affected by the Covid-19 shutdown.

The Wetherspoons chairman said: "I've very sorry about the situation that's occurred with our pubs.

"I know that almost all our trade now has gone to supermarkets. Not only our trade, but the trade from cafes, leisure centres and restaurants. So we have had lots of calls from supermarkets - Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them.

"That's half the number of people who work in our pubs. If I'm honest, I say you can get the furlough payments and stay at home. If you're offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that.

"If you think it's a good idea, do it. I can completely understand it. If you've worked for us before I promise you we will give you first preference if you want to come back."

Workers respond

Martin's message was widely criticised with the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), comparing the group to companies such as Costa, which has promised to pay staff for the next eight weeks.

Ian Hodson, president of the BFAWU, said: "He is ignoring the advice of the Government to stand by your workers and instead abandoning them in their time of need.

"They need to pay rent, buy food and, because of the low wages he's always paid them, will not have savings to depend upon.

"His selfish approach says unless the Government puts money into my bank account today he'll let the workers who have made him rich suffer.

"It is completely unacceptable."

Workers and unions have heavily criticised the pub chain, describing Mr Martin's actions as shocking.

A Wetherspoons worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told PA: "To be told the company won't pay you until the Government grant is enacted at the end of April is hard enough.

"I'll be homeless in two weeks with no income.

"Getting told it by Tim Martin, drink in one hand, ending with a half-hearted and sadistic 'Good luck' is another thing all together.

"I feel so let down and so, so scared."

Labour MP: 'stance is unacceptable'

Labour MP and chairwoman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee Rachel Reeves criticised the move on social media.

She tweeted: "Unacceptable that Wetherspoons has refused to pay its 40,000 employees until it receives its Government loan - potentially in late April - after first refusing to lock down altogether.

"If bosses disregard employees' well-being then Government should take tougher action to force compliance."

Wetherspoons issued a response to criticism saying it believes its actions "are responsible and sensible in the difficult circumstances" and criticised a "complete misinterpretation of what Wetherspoon said" in press reports.

Wetherspoons spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "Wetherspoon sent a video by the chairman Tim Martin, a letter from chief executive John Hutson and other information to all employees.

"In those communications it made clear that all employees would get paid this Friday for all work carried out until the pubs shut.

"After that, the company would utilise the Government 'furlough' scheme, which pays 80% of wages, details of which are in the course of being finalised between licensed trade representatives and the government at the present time.

"As we understand it, tens of thousands of hospitality workers and others have already lost their jobs, but Wetherspoon is retaining all its employees, using the Government scheme for the purpose for which it is intended."