Unprecedented strike action planned as hospitality workers walk out for £10 an hour

Alasdair Clark

Staff from McDonalds, JD Wetherspoon and TGI Fridays will walk out of work as part of a coordinated campaign across the hospitality sector for better pay and conditions

STAFF FROM THREE major hospitality chains will walk out of work together in October in unprecedented strike action jointly organised between union members from McDonalds, JD Wetherspoon and TGI Fridays.

In a bid to win better pay and conditions for hospitality staff, and industry well known for poor workers’ rights, staff from a limited number of restaurants and pubs will strike together on October 4 in an action jointly organised between Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and the anti-poverty campaign War on Want. 

The action, coordinated across the three employers, takes place as trade unions carry out membership drives in the hospitality sector where staff have been poorly represented in the past, and the limited actions are said to be a sign of growing unrest amongst staff. 

The exact numbers of those expected to strike is unknown, but staff from a number of McDonald’s branches in London, workers from two Brighton-based JD Wetherspoons pubs will join workers from TGI Fridays restaurants. Trade unions are expected to use the limited action as a recruitment tool to expand future strike action across the UK. 

A new policy, branded “tip robbery” prompted TGI Fridays staff in London to walk out of work in August 2018. The controversial policy meant tips earned by front of house staff would be redirected to top-up the “poor wages” of kitchen staff in a bid to halt high staff turn over at the chain. 

Unite the Union, which represents some of the front of house staff, estimated that policy change would strip workers of £60 a week at a time when the chain’s CEO Karen Foster was awarded a 40 per cent pay rise, from £260,000 to £365,000 per annum. 

Read More: TGI Friday? Tip ‘robbery’ row prompts holiday Friday walkout at food chain

The October 4 strike will call for a £10 an hour minimum wage for all hospitality staff and an end to unfair practices such as 0-hours contracts, and it is thought that they are seeking to capitalise on recent concessions by the hospitality giants who are said to be fearful of growing trade unionism both in the UK and the US. 

On Tuesday [18 September] McDonalds workers across the US walked out of stores, protesting the companies sexual harassment policy which campaigners say leaves staff vulnerable to assault in their workplace. 

In St Louis, according to the New York Times, protesters were heard chanting “Hold your burgers, hold your fries. Keep your hands off my thighs” as their protest was described in the media as the hospitality industries ‘#MeToo’ moment. 

McDonalds workers in the US have also been engaged in a number of actions fighting for better pay, and a series of strikes calling for a $15 minimum wage have taken places across a number of states. 

The fast-food chain has a UK workforce of over 120,000 people in the UK, and staff wages were previously as low as £5.90 for the youngest workers, however, the company recently announced the first voluntary pay increase for staff in over 10 years. 

New pay structures, welcomed as a good first step by the BFAWU, awarded UK employees at McDonalds a 40p pay rise, bringing the lowest wage to just above minimum wage. Speaking in January when the pay rise was announced, Steve Day, one of the McDonalds workers who took part in an earlier strike, welcomed the new deal but said it wasn’t enough. 

Read More: Better Than Zero campaign calls for strikes against Amazon to extend from mainland Europe to UK

McDonalds has recording growing profits across the world, and CEO  Steve Easterbrook doubled his wage to $15.4m in 2017 in recognition of the companies strong performance. 

Workers at JD Wetherspoon are also said to be encouraged by recent pay increases, but again staff and unions have said the company could afford to go further. 

Responding the news of the strike action, Wetherspoons pointed to its £20m-worth of pay rises in 2017 and £27m in 2018: “We are also moving to the same [pay] rate for 18-21s as we already have for over 21s from November 5 2018. In addition, we are putting up the rate of pay,” a spokesperson said. 

Meanwhile, McDonald’s played down the strike action: “Any suggestion that this activity is widespread and growing is not accurate – we understand that fewer of our employees are involved in potential industrial action than last May, with the support from our people for the union diminishing.”

Picture courtesy of Robert Byford/War on Want

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