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06 December 2010

Whatever happened to the works canteen?

The works canteen appears to be a declining tradition in British workplaces, with only just over half now having one, according to a survey of union representatives.

In a survey carried out by the Labour Research Department, just 56% of reps said their workplace had a canteen. This compares with 66% of reps saying they had one in a similar survey a decade ago and 82% saying that in 1995.

Even where canteens do exist, they are less likely to be subsidised by the employer, according to the survey. Only just over half (52%) of the canteens were subsidised compared with 64% a decade ago. And the price of canteen fare is significantly affected by whether or not there is a subsidy. For example, the average price of a cup of tea in an unsubsidised canteen is 65p - half as much again as in a subsidised one (43p).

Subsidy is not the only factor in keeping prices in check. The survey found that having union involvement in running the canteen had an even more marked effect on prices. The average price of a cuppa is 60p where there is no union involvement in the running of the canteen compared with just 37p in canteens with union involvement. A snack meal averages ?1.97 where there is no union involvement compared with ?1.53 where there is, and a main meal costs ?3.30 compared with ?2.69.

However, fewer than one in four survey respondents said unions now have any involvement in the running of their workplace canteens (compared with almost twice as many a decade ago).

These trends make it less surprising that reps are not overwhelmed by the value for money afforded by their canteens, with fewer than half describing them as giving excellent or good value for money. However, higher marks were given for quality and variety of food provided: over three quarters of reps with canteens agreed that the food provided was nutritious and balanced, the vast majority said (89%) said there was a daily vegetarian option and 86% said there were daily healthy eating options.

Where subsidised canteens still exist they are highly regarded by the staff. At one site in Stevenage, for example, the union rep said their canteen offers soup at 30p, main courses from ?1.90, desserts for 46p and a different menu every day. He describes the canteen food as of excellent quality and also excellent value for money, although the portions are "small".

But the current era of cuts and austerity is likely to impact badly on the provision of the workplace lunch. A number of survey respondents in the public sector referred to a recent deterioration of their facilities as a result of spending cuts.

Notes for editors
  • The survey was carried out among union workplace representatives in the Labour Research Department (LRD) Payline database of collective agreements. A total of 254 responded, spread across the economy with 49% from the public sector, 46% from the private sector and 5% in the not-for-profit sector. More details are published in a feature in the November 2010 issue of the LRD negotiators journal, Workplace Report
  • For further information on the survey analysis please contact Dave Statham

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