British McDonald’s workers made history on Monday, staging a strike after repeated claims of poor working conditions and the company's refusal to offer permanent rather than zero-hour contracts. The 24-hour protest was staged at two branches: one in Crayford, south east London; the second in Cambridge. Workers staged a protest outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday.
The fast food workers, which number about 30 across the two McDonald’s restaurants, want to see their wages rise to £10 per hour. Currently, staff aged 25 or above earn £7.50 per hour. Management promises made earlier this year to give staff permanent positions by the company — rather than insecure zero-hour contracts — have yet to be fulfilled. Employees across the company have said to have suffered “bullying” and endured “extreme stress.” Others have reported more acutely worrying issues such as sexual harassment, and the mistreatment of migrant workers.
The strike began at midnight on Sunday and is the first since McDonald’s launched in Britain in 1974. Those taking action were represented by The Baker’s, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), whom Eater London spoke to late on Monday. A representative for the union called the strike a “historic step”, insisting the union is giving McDonald’s staff its full support. The union’s ballot on the matter came in at 95.7% in favour.
The public watched on in interest yesterday as the picket lines formed in the early hours. They mirrored similar action in Australia and the US.
Crayford McDonald’s crew member Shen Batmaz, from Swanley, told local paper the Bexley Times that working conditions have become “impossible”; that "workers have been left homeless with a four-year-old daughter... have suffered bullying and harassment"; that "staff are afraid to stand up out of fear that their weekly hours could be cut to just one shift a week."
Shen said there is a distinct "culture of fear". She told Eater London: “This strike is a part of an international movement, which is taking on one of the biggest corporations in the world. The brave workers who decided to take part in this action are choosing to stand up together.
“We are asking for nothing more than to be treated with dignity and to be able to afford to live. This strike is just the tip of the iceberg, and right now stores across the UK are organising so that we can keep fighting McDonald’s together.”
Another McDonald’s employee who took part in the strike is Lewis Baker. He’s worked at Crayford McDonald’s for four years and is studying at university. Lewis wrote a blog post explaining why he feels the need to shout louder.
He said: “We have been left with no choice but to strike. It’s our only real option. We need to raise awareness over our working conditions and the way we are treated in McDonald’s. I — like many others — have had [my] grievances ignored by the company, time and time again.”
Lewis added that “McDonald’s have power over my whole life.” He said that staff are often only given six hours’ notice before they have to start a shift, and that managers were even sent their social media profiles and had attempted to “belittle the union” — and the workers’ cause.
McDonald’s employs around 85,000 people in the UK and is not the only company to offer highly divisive zero-hour contracts. Some proffer the idea that they offer flexibility; others believe they leave workers unstable financially.
Ian Hodson, national leader of the BFAWU, said: “Despite all the attempts to change McDonald’s approach and help them become a fairer employer, nothing has been done on their side. Nothing has changed. Empty promises have been made. Yet nothing has been delivered.”
A video posted to the ‘McStrike’ Twitter page shows Ronnie Draper, General Secretary of the Bakers Union, addressing the protesters yesterday.
McDonald’s however claimed that it has given staff the choice of flexible or fixed contracts — the latter of which come with minimum guaranteed hours. The corporation said that 86% chose to stay on the former.
A McDonald’s spokesman said: "We can confirm that, following a ballot process, the BFAWU has indicated that a small number of our people representing less than 0.01% of our workforce are intending to strike in two of our 1,270 UK restaurants.
"As per the terms of the ballot, the dispute is solely related to our internal grievance procedures and not concerning pay or contracts. As announced in April this year, together with our franchisees, we are providing our people with the option of a guaranteed hour contract, and all restaurants will have these contracts in place by the end of 2017.
"McDonald's UK and its franchisees have delivered three pay rises since April 2016; this has increased the average hourly pay rate by 15 per cent."