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McDonalds strike
McDonald’s workers striking today in LondonPhotography Jess Hurd

Talking to McDonald’s workers about why they’re protesting

‘We don’t get paid enough to care about getting normal burgers exactly right’

Today, in towns and cities across the UK, McDonald’s workers are taking to the streets to strike for better wages and set hours, with workers from six restaurants also gathering outside Downing Street, as well as campaigning online using the hashtag #McStrike.

The strikes come after former McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook was recently fired for having a relationship with an employee and left the company with £29 million worth of stocks and a severance payment of £505,000. A gross injustice when you consider that a McDonald’s worker in London is paid £8.80 per hour, while the London living wage is £10.20. 

However, the workers aren’t just angry about Easterbrook’s ridiculous severance pay, or even the fact that his successor will earn around £97,000 a year and a target bonus of £165,500. 

Staff are using the strikes to call for a £15 an hour wage, an end to youth rates whereby teenagers are paid less, a notice of shifts four weeks in advance and to ask for the choice of guaranteed hours for up to 40 hours a week. They also want their union, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) recognised by their employer. 

Lewis Baker, who is 28, and has worked in the Crayford branch of McDonald’s for about six years, currently as a crew trainer, told Dazed: 

“I decided to strike today because McDonald’s hasn’t met with our union to give us the deal that we’re asking for – £15 per hour – or given us union recognition.” Baker first went on strike in September 2017, when workers were asking for £10 per hour, and has been on strike twice since, until today, which is his fourth action.

“The only thing that’s changed is that we were asking for £10 an hour and now we’re asking for £15. We have decided that’s how much we need to live on. They’re a multi-million-pound company so they can afford to pay that. It’s not fair that we have to subsidise our wages with benefits or other work in order to live.”

Other workers are making the point that low pay translates into bad customer service. One worker reportedly said: “We don’t get paid enough to care about getting normal burgers exactly right.” 

“It upsets me that McDonald’s don’t really value us as employees. We’re not asking for the world, just basic demands.” – Lewis Baker, #McStrike 

This morning, Baker joined other protesters outside Wandsworth Town McDonald’s. He says there were about 30 McDonald’s workers along with community supporters, people from other trade unions, anti-poverty charity War On Want and a few Labour MPs. “That was the morning picket and we’re doing another rally outside Downing Street this afternoon, and delivering an open letter.” At the rally they chanted, “I believe that we will win” and “the workers united will never be defeated”.

Over the phone, he said: “It’s upsetting that I’ve had to go on strike for the fourth time. It upsets me that McDonald’s don’t really value us as employees. We’re not asking for the world, just basic demands. When we talk to workers across McDonald’s it does make me upset that they’re experiencing the same thing.”

He continued: “Even if they met and listened, it would make me feel more valued. If they did meet our demands it would give us more work-life balance, we wouldn’t have to be making decisions about what bills we can even pay. 

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will be joining the protests this afternoon outside Downing Street. He says that Labour supports the action and that a Labour government would take on big corporations like McDonald’s to fight “poverty wages” and ensure they commit to a £10 an hour living wage, adding that “low pay and insecure work is endemic in the fast-food industry.”

A McDonald’s spokesperson gave a statement in response to the strike action, as reported by The Mirror. He said: “We are extremely disappointed that a very small number of our people in just a handful of our restaurants are considering industrial action. Their potential actions do not represent our people. The BFAWU is calling for 40-hour guaranteed contracts, which is something we already offer - but has been chosen by very few of our people. With all given the choice, around 90% of our employees have chosen to remain on flexible contracts, valuing the ability to work their shifts around their lives.” 

But Baker believes that improved wages would benefit both McDonald’s and their staff: “It would improve service because the workforce would be more motivated and happy. I think workers’ mental health would also improve because we wouldn’t be under so much stress that we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills. Productivity would, of course, improve too.”