McDonald’s workers in Britain are striking in a dispute over zero-hours contracts and working conditions that is being closely observed by the fast food industry and trade unions.
Staff from branches in Manchester and Watford will join colleagues in Crayford and Cambridge as part of a “McStrike” as workers demand a minimum £10-an-hour living wage.
Members of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union are also asking for a choice of fixed-hour contracts, the end of unequal pay for young workers, and union recognition.
Employees at UK branches attracted worldwide attention in September by striking for the first time. Britain is one of McDonald’s strongest markets, reporting 12 years of quarterly growth.
While the numbers of employees taking strike action on Tuesday is small – just 11 are officially involved – one academic said the move was significant.
Tony Royle, a professor of employment relations at the University of York, said the dispute was symbolic of the growing income gap, an increase in precarious work and a decline in independent trade union representation.
“McDonald’s is a multibillion-dollar corporation which continues to pay its senior executives sky-high salaries while paying low wages for the vast majority of its 2 million employees.
“Young workers in particular have felt the brunt of the ‘flexible’ labour market and austerity government policies and are increasingly frustrated, angry and ready to fight for a more just workplace.
“It’s now 40 years since McDonald’s entered the UK market. Today’s strike and the strike in September 2017, despite McDonald’s’ attempts to play down and undermine [the action], could be the beginning of a shift in UK employment relations.”
McDonalds’ employees won their biggest pay rise in 10 years in January, but it was banded by position, region, and age. Only company-owned McDonald’s restaurants – about a quarter of branches in Britain – were affected.
Annalise Peters, a worker at a McDonald’s in Cambridge said: “The public and the labour movement have given us so much support and encouragement.”
Striking fast-food workers also plan to demonstrate in Watford, the hometown of McDonald’s chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, as part of the industrial action.
Lewis Baker, a McDonald’s worker in Crayford, said: “Every message of support builds our confidence as we stand up to this bullying company and demand a fair wage and respect on the job.”
A McDonald’s spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon that only one person had walked out across three strikes planned for the morning, while a maximum of of five people could walk out across the other two due to take place this afternoon.
“The vast majority of our employees – across all stores, franchised and company-owned – received the annual pay rise in January, and the increase referred to within your piece started back in 2015.
“Union recognition did not feature on the ballot paper, there is no suggestion this strike is calling for McDonald’s to recognise the union.
“We offered all 120,000 employees the chance to move to fixed hours contracts, more than 80% of them opted to stay on their existing contracts,” she said.
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has written to McDonald’s calling for a meeting to discuss the union’s demands.
McDonald’s owns or franchises more than 37,000 restaurants in 120 countries.