Expert on industrial relations, pay and employment law
The witness provides an in-depth and fascinating study of McDonalds employment regime, compiled as part of the witnesses role in safegaurding and assessing employment practices in this sector.
However, the witness, in the course of the study, came up against standard stonewalling tactics."It is only possible to gain a comprehensive picture of working conditions
through direct contact with employees. However, I was not granted
permission to discuss with crew some of the issues which are in contention...
I worked for the Transport and General Workers Union as a full-time
official from April 1980 to November 1992, working out of the union's central
London office, at North Gower Street, prior to taking up this
appointment, I was employed as a fieldworker with the Migrant Services Unit
(not available for this witness)
- I worked for the Transport and General Workers Union as a full-time
official from April 1980 to November 1992, working out of the union's central
London office, at North Gower Street. Immediately prior to taking up this
appointment, I was employed as a fieldworker with the Migrant Services
Unit, a voluntary organisation, working primarily on employment-related
issues among migrant workers in London.
- My union duties principally focused on the hotel and catering industry,
where my responsibilities included:
* negotiating pay and conditions among hotel and restaurant companies, in
London and at national level;
* providing advice and assistance to individual catering workers on specific
employment rights issues;
* organising and supporting union recruitment drives, either in response to
specific requests, or as part of planned campaigns;
* representing workers at industrial and social security appeal tribunals;
* representing the TGWU: as a member of the Licensed residential
Establishment and Licensed Restaurant Wages Council; the Unlicensed Place
of Refreshment Wages Council; and the advisory body attached to the
Denmark Street Hotel and Catering Job Centre;
* servicing, as secretary, the union's Hotel and Catering Advisory
* organising and conducting as tutor, TCWU training courses at regional and
national level on health and safety at work; rights at work; and support-
courses for shop stewards in the hotel and catering sector.
- My responsibilities included the restaurant and fast-food sector. I had
contact with staff in a number of McDonald's outlets, including those referred
to in my earlier statement of 30 September 1988, concerning initiatives at the
Mare Street (Hackney), Warren Street (Camden), and Seven Sisters
(Holloway) and other brandhes.
- I have read the individual employee statements forming part of the defence
submission, relevant transcripts of proceedings insofar as employment and
health and safety at work issues are concerned, and supporting documents
- My site visits were of limited value, due to the constraints imposed by
McDonald's. I attended off-peak site visits at the Hackney Mare Street branch
on Wednesday 22 June 1995 at 9.45 am, and the Seven Sisters unit on Friday
24 June 1995 at 9.45 am, accompanied by a solicitor on behalf of the plaintiffs,
and an area supervisor. I had asked to see the store in operation at peak times,
and to receive certain overall statistical information on the workforce at the
two stores. However, these requests were denied.
- It is only possible to gain a comprehensive picture of working conditions
through direct contact with employees. However, I was not granted
permission to discuss with crew some of the issues which are in contention,
* staff views on trade unionism in the company, its relevance and
* opinions on staffing levels, shift arrangements, working hours, overtime
worked and other scheduling practices;
* their experience of health and safety issues at the restaurant; and
* how, in their view, the need for stores to meet labour cost targets affected
work scheduling and standards of health and safety at work.
- I was shown round the cooking and service areas, observed some work
practices, discussed some operational issues with managers, and perused the
accident books and daily food production schedules. Copies of these
documents have not been made available to me.
- Although I did not observe the restaurants working at their peak, I was
struck by the intense concentration of effort by employees. At each unit, I
observed front-of-house staff skip-running in order to complete the delivery
of orders to customers within the required service times.
- Though I was not provided with written details, I was shown the hour-by-
hour predicted product sales targets for the week. The expected sales are
based on previous experience. This apparently enables managers to schedule
staffing levels against predicted sales.
- Though I saw the back-of-house areas at off-peak times, they seemed in
both instances to be near the limit of their safe working capacity, given that
speed of movement is at a premium, regardless of how many customers are in
the queue. I examined the stores' accident books, each recording accidents
over the previous two to three years. The range of occurrences was similar to
those found in the 27 UK and Ireland employee witness statements, which I
have examined. I have requested, but not received, a copy of recent entries in
these two accident books, though I was given to understand at the time of my
visits that this information would be made available.
- I have read David McGee's statement and would concur with much of his
description of the incidents surrounding his attempt to unionise the store.
Union rights and McDonald's
- As explained in my earlier statement, I was involved in a number of
shortlived attempts to encourage McDonald's employees to join the hotel and
catering section of the TGWU, of which I was the leading officer in London
and the south-east of England at the time. I set these initiatives in the
context of a wide-ranging series of activities among hotel and restaurant workers in
London during my period of tenure. We undertook literally hundreds of
recruitment initiatives, the great majority in response to specific
employees. Several thousand catering workers joined the union as a result.
- Particular characteristics of the McDonald's workforce and wider labour
practices militate against trade union development in the company. These
* high labour turnover. If the 60% labour turnover figure at McDonald's
referred to in the contentious leaflet is now more or less accepted as near to
the true position, this is double the 35.4% industry average for the restaurant
sector, according to the latest report by the Hotel and Catering Training
Company [Employment Flows in the catering and hospitality sector: 1994]. It
is therefore doubly difficult in this company to recruit, retain and
represent union members;
* the company employs a high percentage of workers under 21 years of age,
including students in large numbers, who do not expect to enjoy a long stay at
the company, and who are unlikely to have a trade union background: Peter
Sutcliffe's case was an exception;
* the employment of a high proportion of part-time staff on variable shifts
makes for difficulties in maintaining regular contact with crew interested in
joining a union;
* fear of dismissal. Of the 27 witness statements from former employees, 14
refer to trade unionism. Company hostility, real or perceived, features in most
of these cases. Until 1995, part-time staff have had to work for five years, and
full-timers for two years, before gaining the right to claim wrongful dismissal
at an industrial tribunal; and
* employment conditions potentially restricting trade union activity in a
restaurant: see Crew Handbook, page 24, conditions k and l, which would
debar the distribution of union literature or the collection of union dues,
whether staff are on or off duty.
- For these reasons, the McDonald's staffing and labour relations system, in
my view, is fundamentally inimicable to unions. This may appear in the form
of a prevailing anti-union-initiatives culture at store management level, as
would appear from the employee statements; or in the arrival of senior
personnel at the scene of tentative first attempts to estabhsh a union presence:
I refer to Mr Nicholson's statement, paras 29-42. Notwithstanding his denial
in para 34 (no policy of getting rid of pro-union workers), employee
statements confirm such incidents in Dublin; or refer to the fear of dismissal;
or to rumours of McDonald's closing down a unionised restaurant; or to the
belief that a pretext would be found for dismissing staff interested in unions.
The company appears to take few steps to ensure that all staff are aware of
their right to join a trade union, and that union membership would not put
their employment in jeopardy.
- What would a reasonable modern employer, willing to recognise a trade
union, offer its workforce? At a well-unionised restaurant the size of a typical
McDonald's unit, with say 80 full- and part-time staff, I would expect to see a
basic union recognition agreement with two or three elected, trained shop
stewards covering the range of shifts. By virtue of union recognition, the
restaurant would have a health and safety at work committee, with trained
safety representatives accredited under the Health and Safety at Work Act,
meeting regularly, with management, undertaking regular, joint safety
inspections. A jointly-agreed grievance and disciplinary procedure would
involve independent, trained union representatives available to represent
staff in a fair and competent manner, with employee access to a full-time
union official and other union legal resources. There might also be local
substantive negotiations on pay and conditions, and company-wide
bargaining, depending on the overall union density within the operation.
Awareness of statutory employment rights, including health and safety,
wages councils and the employment of young persons, form part of union
shop steward training courses.
Health and safety at work
- I have read the 1992 HSE report "The Management of Occupational
Health and Safety in McDonald's Restaurants Ltd". I note that it states there
were no restaurant safety representatives or safety committees in the
company (para 2.12). The report describes the application of the "hustle"
policy as a good illustration of the culture of the company, which "had
resulted in a conflict between operational requirements and safety, where the
need to get the product to the customer and to maximise sales had taken
- The report observes that, for many staff, hustle meant having to "run or
slide" . The system was described as "putting the service of
customers before the safety of employees" in many restaurants. I find the HSE
report a worrying assessment of company priorities. Some practices are
inherently unsafe, yet persist, from my own observations, both as a customer
and during site visits. In work areas with hot surfaces, hot liquids, electrical
machinery and sometimes wet floors, "hustle" is inherently a high-risk
Controlling the cost of labour
- The food control schedules I saw during my two site visits came to mind
when I read the detailed guide to controlling labour costs [Document headed:
Profit Unit Activity 3], which begins with the statement: "As you know,
labour costs are controllable in the same way food costs are."
- Constantly-monitored food and labour cost control systems form a
disciplined, integrated approach to cost-management. Both are monitored on
an hour-by-hour basis, as statements by witnesses Gibney, Alimi and K.
Harrison make clear, with staffing levels scheduled to income. The system
depends on a highly flexible employment contract - with staff flexing their
hours, willingly or not. It is central to management's approach to planning,
programming and budgetting within restaurants, and within the wider
- On the question of whether the company pays "low wages", in public
policy terms, one yardstick would be the former "floor" of pay set by the 26
wages councils in certain industries, mainly in the service sector, until the
counils were abolished effective from August 1993. These rates were well
below half average earnings in the UK. A widely recognised inter-
governmental formula lies in the higher standards set by the Council of
Europe's "decency threshold" of pay, set at 68% of the average earnings in
any affiliated state, including Britain. In 1994, the decency threshold was
£221.50 a week, based on gross weekly earnings for full-time employees on
adult rates, working a 37.7 hour week (source: the Govemment's New
Earnings Survey 1994).
- Following wages councils abolition, Britain are Ireland are the only two
EU Members States without cross-industry minimum wage systems.
Reflecting concerns among our European partners over the development of
labour market practices "which no longer afford those concerned a decent
standard of living", the European Commission adopted an Opinion on an
equitable wage on 1 September 1994 (copy published in the European
Industrial Relations Review No.239 enclosed). An equitable wage is defined as
a reward which, "in the context of the society in which [employees] live and
work, is fair and sufficient to enable them to have a decent standard of living"
- On basic day-shift rates, the company kept a little ahead of the former UK
statutory minimum rates, while other shifts attract a slightly higher hourly
rate. But it is questionable whether employees working such hours a week, on
whatever combination of shifts, would always have received the equivalent of
the statutory overtime rate, or have been aware of their statutory minimum
entitlement. There is some evidence in the statements that Wages Council
orders were not on display, an offence under the Wages Act. Until the
abolition of wages councils in Britain, effective from August 1993,
McDonald's was covered by a statutory minimum rates for a basic 39-hour
week for employees over 21 years of age, and by a statutory time-and-a-half
overtime payment thereafter. Until 1986, more detailed provisions covered
workers from 16 years of age. There is ample evidence in the submissions of
employees working beyond the claimed maximum 39-hour week. But
because of the overall low-hour policy, low take-home pay is an in-built
feature of employment in the company.
- When labour targets are translated into individual managers' performance
targets, and form a key part of their individual appraisals, then achieving
them may of necessity engender a disciplinarian, if not authoritarian,
management style, dependent for its success on a highly flexible workforce.
Such a tendency is borne out by many of the employee witness statements.
- If, as the HSE report suggests, McDonald's culture tends to place customer
service ahead of staff safety, in effect to maximise sales; and if, as it
the labour formula focuses intensely on the need to minimise staff costs; then,
staff will come second best twice, to customers and to finely-tuned cost
The witness provided the following details
- Between April 1980 and November 1991 I was employed as a full time
officer with the Transport
and General Workers Union, working from the local office in North Gower
street, central London. My
main responsibilities included recruiting and servicing employees in the
hotel and catering industry
including the fast-food sector. On various occasions throughout my period
of office I was involved in
recruitment activities in McDonalds. This inludes a series of contacts with
various outlets in 1987-88.
- I made the following statement on 3Oth September 1988 whilst employed by
"McDonalds is a difficult firm to deal with from a trade union point of
view. I have been refused
access to the staff on the premises of at least two outlets (Warren Street
and Narrow Way, Hackney)
despite speaking to local managers, even though this was to meet staff in
their break times. In at least
one case a lay union organiser found that he had trade union material
stolen from his locker and was
told by management that they can do what they like. They admitted to the
employee that they did steal
the material. I was dismayed by this action by management because I was
assured by the lay member
that he had openly given the material to staff whilst they were off duty
and I was asured that the initial
response from staff was very enthusiastic.
- Staff in other units have told me that they were afraid to join a union
because they were told not to
or because they feared the sack if they did so or because they were told by
management that there was
no union in McDonalds. I believe that they took this to mean that they were not allowed to join a
union and that management was happy to leave them with this impression."
The other units referred
to (in para 3) above were in Oueensway and Holloway Road, London.
- I have undertaken research on the following areas:
- the level of trade union membership within the hotel and catering
industry, especially within London and the South East:
- difficulties experienced by employees and trade union organisers
in developing that
membership, with specific reference to such factors as labour
turnover and management
hostility to collective forms of representation:
- the attempts made at lay union members to advise and assist
colleagues facing unfair work practices;
- the level of pay and the extent of low pay within this sector;
- the problem of unequal pay for women and black employees compared
with male earning;
- the advantages of the minimum wages set by the (now abolished)
wages councils in helping to alleviate low and unequal pay.
- In I 986 I published "Twilight Robbery: Trade unions and low paid
workers" (Pluto Press), which
showed that the "main concentrations of low paid workers are in the service
industries - shops, hotel
and catering, distribution,..even in the same low paid jobs, such as bar
work or clearilng, women's
hourly rates of pay are less than mens. On average, women's full time
hourly rates are about 74% of mens". This combination of low and unequal
pay is a constant problem among low paid, especially
female, employees in the catering sector. The book argued that the removal
of the safety net of wages
council minimum wage rates would lead to a collapse in pay rates in many
low paid sectors.Until the
passing of the 1993 Trade Union reform and Employment Rights Act, wages
councils used to cover
fast food outlets.
- I contributed to the London Food Commission's report, "Fast Food Facts"
(Dr. T. Lobstein, 1988).
which described pay and conditions in the fast food sector. It stated that,
"Part-time working is
common in fast food stores and staff turnover is high. In one study, it was
found that a third of those
that left fast food employment had been sacked. Yet the law does not permit
anyone with less than two
years continuous service to claim for unfair dismissal (unless it is for
racial or sexual discrimination).
...effectively, very few people in fast food service ever earn this basic
These comments reflect my own experience in the field as a full time union
- Fast Food Facts also draws upon a unique study of employment in the fast
food sector by Dr Yiannis
Gabriel ("Working Lives in Catering", 1988). I reviewed this latter book in
highlighting such issues as high staff turnover and the intensive work regime.
Gabriel showed that only 10% of the fast food staff he interviewed had
worked in the same place for
for as long as two years. They had little hope of promotion and believed
that fast food offered, to
quote, "crap jobs", a conclusion that must be of concern at some level,
given the high proportion of
young people who find their first job in the catering sector. Gabriel found
that 70% of the fast food
workers he interviewed in a major chain agreed that they needed union
protection and held over pay
and conditions. They felt that the union could give a voice where they had
none at present
- Lobstein noted that, "Although trade unions have failed to gain a
foothold in the UK McDonalds
outlets, they have succeeded in other countries, particularly where basic
employment protection rights
for individual workers are relatively strong." He cites instances in Sweden
Dublin and Mexico to
make the point which in general, in my view, is highly relevant as
background to my own union recruitment experience in this sector.
- Low pay persists in catering. The Council of Europe's definition of "low
pay" is the "decency threshold", set at less than 68% of average earnings
in any affiliated country. On this basis, according
to the 1992 New earnings survey, low pay is defined as £207.13 a week or £5.52 an hour. The New
Earnings Survey does not provide specific data on pay for fast food
workers. But average earnings for
all workers covered by wages councils, including those in fast food, were
£174.50, with 72.2%
earning less than £200 per week and as many as one in 10 workers earning
below £l05.60 a week.
The same survey shows that waiting staff earn on average £151.60 a week,
with nearly 85% on less than £200 a week.
Such factors as these set the background for the interest in union
membership reported by Gabriel and others, in line with my own experience
in the field.
March 1, 1995
references: Not applicable/ available
Appeared in court
exhibits: Not applicable/ available
transcripts of court appearances: