Low pay and exploitation is not acceptable in the UK

National President of the Bakers Union (BFAWU) Ian Hodson reports: “An upsurge of protests and strikes by fast food workers burst through at the end of 2013 in cities across the US, where more than half of the industry’s 3.65 million workers rely on benefits to top up their income, and 68 percent are the main breadwinner in their household. Fast food workers in New York City barely make enough to get by, many of them making minimum wage — just $7.25 (£4.37) an hour. Meanwhile, the Goliath corporations they work for, like McDonalds, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, are part of a $200 billion industry, reaping huge profits and showering CEOs with exorbitant compensation while most of their employees qualify for food stamps.

In the UK, we’ve seen the extent of the scandal of zero hours contracts exposed, while the UK take away and fast foods industry raked in a total revenue of £5 billion. In 2012, fast food chains in the UK saw sales rise to a staggering £6.9 billion. Yet for example, McDonald’s, the leading player in the UK industry, boosts its mega profits through forcing 90 percent of its workforce to live on zero hours contracts. And despite the huge profits made by these corporations, the average fast food worker in the UK earns just £5 an hour according to PayScale figures in January 2014.

Recent announcements from these hugely profitable companies regarding their use of unpaid labour and their abundant use of zero hours contracts seem to have gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream media. It would appear that forcing workers into poverty and having them rely on benefits to pay for basics such as rent and food is quite acceptable in David Cameron’s ‘big society’ Britain. Well it isn’t.

The Bakers union (BFAWU) has agreed to work with Unite the Resistance and John McDonnell MP, along with other groups, in a Fast Food Rights campaign with the aim of highlighting that low pay and exploitation is not acceptable in the UK and on 15 February we will be highlighting this terrible practice in a day of action.

We are calling on all of these massive, global fast-food companies to stop this shameful exploitation and instead, ensure that their employees are provided with proper contracts of employment with wages that mean they don’t have to depend on state handouts in order to exist. It is frightful that we even have to make this demand in the 21st century.  It is equally appalling that companies are making vast profits and awarding senior management massive pay increases and bonuses, whilst those on the front line are paid a pittance, unable to plan ahead and with no long-term job security. These companies have the finances to pay trainees and provide secure employment.

The much debated and oft-quoted ‘cost of living crisis’ isn’t the fault of ordinary working people, of teachers, nurses or firefighters. It isn’t the fault of disabled and unemployed people nor people working in the food industry. The blame lies exclusively with irresponsible and greedy bankers, gambling away people’s futures in an unregulated financial sector. The irony is that they have continued to prosper with bailouts from the UK taxpayer.

To add insult to injury, our political classes have ensured that those ‘with the broadest shoulders’ have been able to protect or even add to their wealth whilst those who had no hand whatsoever in the crisis are having to deal with the impact of the recession head-on by way of pay cuts, pay freezes, redundancy and the systematic erosion of employment rights, all in the name of ‘economic necessity’. Companies of course, many of which operate in the food industry have jumped on the bandwagon with lip-licking relish.

Trade Unions were formed to ensure that groups of workers were able to challenge unfairness and exploitation collectively; providing individuals with the strength and support of others in their time of need, so if you work in the fast food industry; if you have a member of your family working in the fast food industry; if you are having to work on a zero hour contract; if you are unemployed and are being forced to provide free labour as part of the government’s ‘workfare’ scheme, contact the BFAWU and tell us of your experience. Let us help you change your life and the lives of those you work with.” (http://www.leftfutures.org/2014/01/hungry-for-fast-food-rights/)

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