McDonald’s will keep all of its U.K. restaurants open for delivery through the new national coronavirus lockdown, having shut down its burger slinging for the initial COVID-19 lockdown in March.
Chief executive Paul Pomroy said that the decision was taken in the context of “significant” operational changes, saying that “We remain committed to enabling our people to come to work safely while continuing to serve the communities in which we operate,” according to Big Hospitality.
Those changes, including perspex screens, temperature checks, and limited menus first came in in May, when 15 restaurants reopened, despite Pomroy refusing to publicly answer ten questions from the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) on worker safety, including guarantee of full sick pay and PPE for staff. In March, McDonald’s workers told Eater that at a typical branch, 40 percent of employees are on zero hours contracts, with pay guarantees from the company only applying to directly owned restaurants, and not franchises. 18 percent of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.K. are directly owned. Being furloughed on 80 percent of wages can therefore leave workers taking home less than minimum wage.
Workers also expressed concerns when McDonald’s reopened its restaurants for drive-thru and delivery more extensively in June. While lockdown and delivery limitations will make capacity lower than full reopening, the risk of returning to work remains: multiple employees said that they were back at work because low wages, made lower by furlough, made being on furlough unaffordable.
McDonald’s public statements on the issue have consistently leaned on the company’s responsibility to workers. He said over the summer that the McDonald’s’s criteria for opening are “first and foremost ensuring the wellbeing of our people and creating the right environment for them to return to work.” The messaging on reopening now reiterates this. Food supply and customer safety come next, with Pomroy adding that McDonald’s needs to “ensure enough supply of fresh produce; and finally [work] in-step with government guidelines to ensure the safety of our customers.”
But much in the same way restaurant sustainability too often focuses myopically on food waste over people, a holistic conception of restaurant safety during COVID-19 would go beyond two-metre markings and limits on customers coming in and out: it would include workers paid enough to live at minimal risk outside of work, and with the security to not come to work when necessary.