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SOLIDARITY was not in short supply when British McDonalds workers staged their first ever strike last autumn, but few could match the display of commitment shown by the Glasgow-based young trade unionists who rose at dawn to board a coach to the capital, attending the strike rally at Parliament Square before returning to Scotland the same day.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that it’s a Scottish group — Better Than Zero (often branded as >ZERO) — which is at the forefront of the fight for precarious workers’ rights.
Campaign organiser Claire Galloway, herself a member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, says fast food workers have been a key priority. “Over the past six months, we’ve been working with those in precarious workplaces, particularly fast food branches — McDonalds and KFC.”
A key challenge, Galloway says, is that many precarious workers recruited to unions find themselves the only member in their workplace.
Better than Zero is responding to this with “a new ‘hubs’ idea, which will be a meeting point for precarious workers in non-unionised workplaces and it will be cross-union members.
“They’ll be run by the members as well, so it’ll be their ideas, their solutions and their campaigns. We’ll just be there to facilitate this. The aim of this is to identify and work with the hard-to-reach workers, more female workers, more migrant workers.”
For Galloway, this is just part of “a major issue” of people not knowing about trade unions and their work.
“We’re trying to challenge that by going into schools, going into colleges and universities and doing workers’ rights talks. We’ve also been going into community groups and holding stalls around schools.
“We’re ensuring we get leaflets out in different languages and we’re speaking out. Sometimes it’s basic workers’ rights — people don’t know they’re entitled to holidays, they’re entitled to a certain rate of pay, that it’s not okay to be treated badly and not get breaks in between shifts.”
A crucial campaign in the weeks, months and years ahead will be ensuring that hospitality workers are able to get home safely from late shifts.
The pitfalls of zero-hour work is something Galloway experienced herself as a care worker. Like many, she initially saw this as a positive.
“I thought it would be the most wonderful thing in the world to have flexibility,” she tells the Star. “It was all lovely for maybe the first six months, I was taking on any shifts they could give me.
“But I was also a student, so when I had to start cutting down my hours, I couldn’t jump at a shift at the drop of the hat — I was sometimes getting half an hour’s notice to travel for a half-hour shift and then travel back.
“Then I lost all my shifts and I phoned in and they said: ‘No, we’ve brought in some new people’.”
Better Than Zero describes itself as “a group of young trade unionists from the hospitality sector who are fed up of bosses who think they are beyond reproach.” Launched at the Scottish TUC Congress in 2015, it came hand-in-hand with an advice helpline (0141 566 6875) for young Scots in non-unionised workplaces.
Galloway, who started off with the campaign as a student ambassador, says the campaign’s ethos is one of listening, not telling young workers what to do. “We’re not going in and telling them: ‘Oh, we want to fix this for you, we want this for you’, [we ask] ‘what do you want?’”
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