Zero-hours contracts are a 21st century trend that I would love to see the back of. As of the last official estimate, over 800,000 people in the United Kingdom are employed on zero hours contracts. With a UK work force of 85,000, McDonald's is one of the most prolific users of them. I'm calling for McDonald's to lead the way and abandon its use of zero-hours contracts and to implement better working conditions for its staff in the UK and across Europe.
Back in April this year I wrote on here that I was adding my support to several petitions from trade unions from around Europe calling for McDonald's to implement EU law by guaranteeing "fair and just working conditions" and to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship, including normal working hours.
I'm pleased to say that on Tuesday 29 November I will be present, along with McDonald's workers, from the UK, France and Belgium and representatives of the Fast Foodworkers' Rights campaign Fight for $15 to hear what the European Commission has to say and what it proposes to do in relation to zero-hours contracts and the right to organise for fast food workers.
The hearing of these petitions comes at a pivotal moment. McDonald's announced back in April (soon after demonstrations against their employment practices and low wages around the globe, including in the UK) that they would in fact be offering a choice of fixed hours contracts to their UK workers. They said they had trialled the scheme in North West England at three stores. The result, they said, was that 80% of people decided to stay on zero-hours contracts. No word, as yet, on the UK-wide roll out of this scheme.
Does this mean that the zero-hours contracts are ok then? Well, no, not really. The big picture is that these contracts put the employer in firm control of the employee's fate. They are based exclusively on what an employer's needs are, not what is best for workers. Indeed, owing to fact that zero-hours workers are often not technically employees of the company handing out the contract, but rather workers renting their labour at will, it excludes them from basic workers' rights such as "sick pay, maternity pay, redundancy and many of the other benefits that accrue to those who are considered to be employees."
Does it mean then that McDonald's has done a U-turn and the fight against poor employment conditions has been won? No, not really either. The other aspect of these petitions are about the rights of its workers and of course their conditions at work. Last year McDonald's was "voted the worst UK employer in a Glassdoor survey. It ranked particularly badly for wages, compensation and management." Linked to this lack of satisfaction is the fact that McDonald's do not recognise trade unions. Not only is this a shining example of poor relations between employer and employee, it's a crying shame that McDonald's appear not to value the collective voice of its 85,000 staff it depends on day in-day out.
The reality is that there are thousands of McDonald's workers employed on zero-hours contracts working in some of the most precarious conditions in our country. It may seem unfair to target McDonald's when the use of zero-hours contracts is more widespread; Sports Direct being a notorious example. However, McDonald's employs 1.9 million people globally making it the world's second largest private sector employer. Many of those people are employed on precarious contracts (such as variants of zero-hours contracts) and have few guaranteed workers' rights. If such a major employer decided to make a change the impact would be hugely positive, for its own staff but potentially across the economy for many more working in different workplaces.
We've seen that it is possible for people power to win the day against McDonald's many times before. For example strikes in New Zealand in 2015 effectively forced McDonald's to abandon its use of zero-hours contracts. Just as multinational companies have gone global, today we need the fight for proper working conditions to apply to everyone whether in the UK or elsewhere. Show your support and sign the petition here.