TODAY MARKS International Fast Food Workers’ Day of Solidarity. In over 33 countries across the world, actions will be taking place outside global fast food outlets to demand living wages, the right to unionise and an end to zero hour contracts for fast food workers.
The international event has been organised by the Fast Food Forward campaign in the United States, which has been campaigning for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to a union for fast food workers since 2012. The campaign has gained huge traction in the States among workers and the general public alike.
It has also put the need for wage increases right back to the centre of US political debate. Last month, McDonald’s said in a document to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that their global brand could be threatened by “the impact of (wage) campaigns by labour organisations and activists, including through the use of social media and other communications and applications.”
Workers deserve respect
In over 130 cities in the United States today, McDonald’s workers will be striking for fair pay and working conditions. McDonald’s made a staggering $5.5bn profit last year, yet the majority of its workforce is still paid statutory minimum wages. It is wrong that workers whose labour generates such huge levels of profit are not treated with the respect they deserve. In Denmark, trade unions negotiated with McDonald’s to successfully raise the wage to $20, end zero hour contracts and affirm trade union rights. Last year, McDonald’s was even voted the best Danish workplace for the third year in a row. This shows that McDonald’s can still operate as a highly profitable corporation while giving workers the respect they deserve.
The Young Workers’ Network in Ireland has linked up with the Fast Food Forward campaign to organise the International Fast Food Workers’ Day of Solidarity events in Ireland. We are supported by the Union of Students in Ireland, the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Spunout.ie, Labour Youth, Young Christian Workers, SIPTU, Unite, the Communications Workers Union, Unite, Belfast Trades Council, Cork Council of Trade Unions and Dublin Council of Trade Unions.
We want to see an increase in wages for fast food workers and we want to see their rights and working conditions respected. It is not only morally right that all workers should earn enough to sustain a decent standard of living, particularly when they’re working for such highly profitable corporations, it makes economic sense too. Ireland needs wage increases to inject consumer demand into the economy to stimulate growth. Wage increases benefit workers, employers and society.
Ending zero hour contracts
That’s why the Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson (no friend of the workers) has made attracting more business support for the living wage one of his key aims for 2014. Putting more money in workers’ pockets benefits shopkeepers because they see an increase of customers in their stores who are able to spend. Increasing wages will also save the government money as it will decrease the number of low paid workers in need of income support supplements from the Department of Social Welfare.
Ending zero hour contracts is also key to improving work conditions. Zero hour contracts are on the rise globally and particularly in Ireland. These contracts do not provide workers with guaranteed hours. It means that workers are permanently on-call to employers. It makes it extremely difficult for workers to have a decent standard of living as they do not know how many hours work and wages they will be getting each week, which makes it impossible to budget for paying rent and household bills. Zero hour contracts are a throwback to the ages when people used to line up outside docks and mills waiting for work and they must be ended so that workers have certainty over their work hours to plan their lives.
Never before has an international day of solidarity this large taken place. It is an historic day in the international labour movement and an important and powerful day also. Today sends a strong message to fast food employers that workers are fed up of being paid poverty wages, not getting enough hours and not having trade union rights. Today, fast food workers across the world demand the respect they deserve.
In Dublin at 5pm today there will be a rally in Wynn’s Hotel on Abbey Street with speeches from fast food workers and activists on the need for fair wages and working conditions in the fast food sector. The rally will be followed at 6pm by a march to and a protest outside a nearby global fast food outlet. In Cork an action will take place at 6pm in Daunt Square and in Belfast at 4.30pm in Castle Place.
Ciaran Garrett is the organiser of international fast food workers solidarity action in Dublin. Twitter @ciaran_garrett