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Fast-food workers unite for battle against exploitation

FAST-FOOD workers from around the world came together in London today to build an international movement for change.

Trade unionists from New Zealand, Spain, Thailand, the United States and Britain met at the Unite union’s headquarters to discuss the successes and obstacles that workers have faced in their countries.

They spoke about their common issues, such as low minimum wages and unpaid work hours, challenges in organising young people, sexual harassment in the workplace and a lack of mainstream media attention.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey congratulated the unions for working in the “most difficult” sector.

“We are fighters, we are not afraid to go where others fear to tread,” he said.

“Organising in the hospitality sector is incredibly difficult. We can give solidarity to one another and learn from one another. The time has come for the voice of hospitality workers to be listened to.”

The conference was opened by Sue Longley, general secretary of the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations), who declared: “Fast-food workers have to have rights and they should be allowed to work with dignity and respect.”

University of York professor Tony Royle spoke about his 20 years of research on the fast-food industry in Europe, noting that workers at 90 per cent of the world’s two million McDonald’s branches — not counting franchises — are on hourly contracts.

“There is an increasing pay gap between people at the top and workers at the bottom,” he said, and little or no protection from management for workers who are abused by customers.

He warned that McDonald’s is a company “highly trained in union-busting,” where managers are taught to catch out and end organisation.

Prof Royle also criticised the EU European Works Council Directive, arguing that regulations do not work for large companies such as McDonald’s.

Fast-food workers in the US began a three-day strike today, joined by airport, hospital, childcare and higher education staff and other low-paid employees.

International demonstrations for fast-food workers’ rights will take place in Chile, Colombia, the US, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Philippines and Japan as part of the #FastFoodGlobal movement.

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union general secretary Ronnie Draper told the Star that the conference provided an “absolutely fantastic” opportunity to meet representatives from across the world. 

“With this much support, I don’t see how we can fail,” he said.

“Global companies bring global problems, and the only way against these is for trade unions across the globe to work with each other hand in hand.”

Striking workers from McDonalds, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons are staging a national day of action tomorrow to demand better working conditions across the hospitality sector, an end to zero-hour contracts and a £10 minimum hourly wage.

A midnight picket is due to take place tonight in Brighton, where a rally is planned for 6.30pm tomorrow. Another rally will be held in London’s Leicester Square at 11am.

Courier workers from UberEats will also strike across Britain to demand a minimum payment of £5 per drop.

GMB regional officer Steve Garelick said: “The continued attacks made on workers, from rate reduction without consultation to gratuities being hived off, show that there is nothing wholesome in the service and gig-economy sector.

“Today shows a frustration that the last two Conservative governments have created in an economy where companies play roulette with others’ lives and ignore their obligations as humans.”

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