The law governing strikes is complex. No strike can take place without a ballot and this must comply with complex procedural obligations. Failure to do so can lead to an injunction to prevent the strike by the employers together with claims for damages against the union. In this case, it seems the union got the procedure right.
The complaints which have led to the strike relate to pay and conditions including a demand for an hourly rate of £10 per hour and an end to zero hours’ contracts.
From the various reports, McDonald’s pay and conditions are not unlawful. Their pay is slightly above the national minimum/living wage rates which vary depending on age (£7.50 per hour for those over 25). The wage of £10 per hour the unions are seeking is closer to the living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation which some employers agree to pay on a voluntary basis.
The widespread criticism of zero hours contracts has persuaded some employers to offer limited guaranteed hours and it seems McDonald’s are proceeding on this basis. The recent Taylor review into modern working practices commissioned by the government recommends higher rates (over and above the NMW/NL W) for those workers employed on zero hours contracts although there are no plans to implement this at present.
If, as reported, McDonald’s workers are being bullied for joining a union, they could bring a claim in the tribunal for the right not to suffer any detriment. The same applies if they are dismissed for trade union activities. Now that tribunal fees have been abolished, it is far easier to initiate a claim.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the McDonald’s strike, what is clear is that the widespread publicity generated by the strike can be far more damaging than the cost of the strike itself.
McDonald’s faces its first strike since it opened in the UK in 1974, as well as protests by unions and the public at several restaurants over pay and working conditions. About 40 staff will go on strike on Monday at two restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, south-east London, after a ballot in favour of industrial action amid concerns over low wages and the use of zero-hours contracts. The fast-food chain has been one of the biggest users of zero-hours contracts in Britain, although it has recently started offering workers the option of moving to fixed hours.