MacMerry and Abandon Ship workers claim thousands missing from pension pots


Workers at one of Scotland’s most successful pub chains claim thousands of pounds of pension contributions are missing.

MacMerry and Abandon Ship venues are expanding fast across the UK, with the grand opening of a bar in London’s affluent Covent Garden planned for this week.

But the businessmen behind the ventures have been accused of “systematic mistreatment” of dozens of staff in Glasgow and Dundee, with claims of sexual harassment, Covid breaches and missing pay.

The Sunday Mail can reveal that, among the complaints, it is alleged pension contributions taken from workers’ wages have not been paid into the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest) scheme.

The Sunday Mail has seen wage slips of multiple employees showing deductions running into hundreds of pounds – but with no corresponding payments into their pensions
The Sunday Mail has seen wage slips of multiple employees showing deductions running into hundreds of pounds – but with no corresponding payments into their pensions

We have seen the wage slips of multiple employees showing deductions running into hundreds of pounds – but with no corresponding payments into their pensions.

The MacMerry chain, run by Phil Donaldson and AJ McMenemy, includes Dundee bars Draffens and Bird And Bear plus The Luchador in Glasgow.

The entrepreneurs also operate the Abandon Ship bars in Glasgow and Dundee with Richard Davies.

Davies frequently flaunts his luxury lifestyle on social media and his wife Amanda – who models for his Abandon Ship clothing brand – posted pictures of herself on the Brit Awards red carpet on Tuesday night.

The new Abandon Ship venue in Covent Garden boasts that it will deliver a “sensory explosion” to well-heeled customers.

But 28-year-old Joel Galbraith – a former sous chef at Abandon Ship in Glasgow – is just one of the Scottish employees demanding to know what has happened to his pension contributions.

Abandon Ship in Glasgow Gibson Digital 2022
Abandon Ship in Glasgow Gibson Digital 2022

He said: “All the time I was working between September last year and January, deductions were coming off my wages for Nest pension contributions.

“I was utterly shocked to find none of these appear to have been paid into my Nest account, which was already set up from a previous job.

“When I contacted Nest, they made clear there had never been any contributions paid by MacMerry or Abandon Ship.

“That is my money that should have been going into an investment account which would have increased in value over the time I worked there.

“I reckon I am about £600 down in terms of the money that should have been paid in and I know there are others who are in a similar position to me.

“It is disgraceful that a company which is expanding around the country, including opening new bars in the most affluent areas of London, is behaving in this way.”

Another worker, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I worked for MacMerry for about eight months and I have now had a letter from HMRC saying I owe them over £2000 in tax and I have been put on an emergency tax rate in my new job.

“The cost of everything is going up at the moment. I was on the breadline as it was and this will be devastating if it doesn’t get sorted out.

“There is a group chat that we have with dozens of people who have worked for all the bars in Glasgow and Dundee and they are furious about the pension issue.

“I can’t see a single person on there who thinks the proper contributions have been made into their Nest account.”

The alleged missing pension money is just one of a raft of complaints about the bar chain, which is thought to employ up to 100 people in Glasgow, Dundee and London.

A collective grievance from trade union Unite Hospitality details more than 60 issues relating to poor practice and ill treatment of staff.

They include claims that management did not deal with sexual misconduct allegations appropriately and that Covid outbreaks were not appropriately dealt with.

Bryan Simpson, of Unite Hospitality, said: “More than five weeks after directors were made aware of serious issues in a collective grievance signed by 60 percent of all staff, many of our members across MacMerry and Abandon Ship bars are still owed thousands in unpaid pension contributions, along with holiday pay and tax.

“Requests for clarity and payment are being ignored by directors.

“Despite repeated requests for meetings with Phil Donaldson and Richard Davies to commence collective bargaining discussions, the company continues to refuse to engage with the union, which represents more than 50 per cent of staff.

“Unfortunately, this means we will have to proceed with compulsory recognition imposed by the Central Arbitration Committee.

“We hope Mr Donaldson and Mr Davies will stop burying their heads in the sand and start acting on commitments made to resolve these deep-rooted issues.

“The first step in that process is to collectively engage with Unite and to sign up to our Fair Hospitality Charter.”

Nest is a defined contribution pension scheme set up to facilitate automatic enrollment as part of the Government’s workplace pension reforms to try to ensure everyone has retirement savings.

But as well as allegations of missing pension payments, MacMerry and Abandon Ship have been accused of failing to pay proper holiday wages and tax irregularities.

The collective grievance accuses the firm of breaching health and safety and Covid rules, not paying staff properly and of sexual impropriety by workers.

Claims include that staff were asked to conceal positive Covid tests and attend shifts while awaiting results and also that workers were exposed to potential carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty equipment.

Chefs also say they were made to work in 40C-plus heat due to poor kitchen ventilation.

McMenemy and Donaldson set up the group MacMerry 300 in 2010 before later going into business with Davies, who is understood to design the Abandon Ship interiors.

The Sunday Mail repeatedly tried to contact the directors of MacMerry and Abandon Ship but they did not respond.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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