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Steve Day, Cambridgephotography Jordan Hughes

The McDonald’s workers staging the first ever UK strike

We speak to some of the staff who walked out over working conditions, wages, lack of union recognition and zero-hour contracts

Staff of fast food chain McDonald’s staged their first ever UK strike yesterday (September 4), challenging poor pay and working conditions. They are calling for an official wage of £10 an hour and better secured hours.

The company employs about 85,000 staff in the UK and 1 million worldwide – in a statement, McDonald’s said protesters represented 0.01 percent of its employee base. Around 200 people gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London, while others walked out in restaurants based in south-east London’s Crayford and Cambridge.

The strike took place on a national day of action against low pay across the UK, instigated by the Fast Food Rights campaign. They align themselves with their counterparts in the U.S. According to the the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), six McDonald’s restaurants are unionised at present, but they must rally more to encourage change.

Politicians, including the shadow chancellor and Labour MP John McDonnell, joined employees and union members outside Parliament on College Green to demonstrate. McDonnell told the Guardian: “These are workers who are extremely vulnerable in terms of their employment conditions. And yet at the same time they’ve had the courage to come on strike. They’ve said: ‘We’ve had enough and we need to negotiate’. If I was McDonald’s management I’d be listening very carefully today. I’d contact the union and I’d get round that table.”

Major grievances centre on the company’s lack of union recognition and zero-hour contracts. Issues from the two restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford include cuts to hours that affect workers’ ability to make a living wage, and claims of bullying by senior staff. Those taking part in direct action here in the UK add to the growing challenge against the fast food chain, as workers in New Zealand have held similar demonstrations to demand fairer employment.

As noted by The Conversation, British McDonald’s has been under serious pressure to end zero hour contracts. Earlier this year, the chain promised to offer fixed hours instead, which have begun rolling out in small pilot schemes. However, it’s thought much, much more could be done.

Dazed speaks with a few of the staff members who turned out to demonstrate in the hope of better working conditions and decent pay.

Steve Day (pictured above), aged 25, has been employed at the Cambridge branch for two months. He says that he has “worked at many places, but (I have) never seen working conditions like McDonald’s”. He details the intense atmosphere as the chain is constantly short-staffed, that they’re forced to take breaks early, and as a result, work long stretches without a break. By striking he can see that McDonald’s can no longer ignore the workers.

18-year-old Jess Bower, who has been working for McDonald’s for two years, joined strike action in Crayford. She, like many others, is rallying for the £10 an hour wage. She tells Dazed that with a fair wage she would be able to move out of home and start to become independent.

Tristan Bentley, aged 17, has been working at Crayford’s McDonald’s for one year. He tells Dazed that he’s protesting for the increase in hourly wage, improved working conditions and is “tired of managers forcing workers to take their breaks early in the shift”. Bentley has been injured several times in work while using the grill – he had been told to ice a burn and keep working, despite supposed first aid protocol. He asserted that the burns were made much worse by the heat in the kitchen and the lack of air conditioning.