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“Depending on the will or pleasure of another, and characterised by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger.”
No, that’s not a description of the plot line in a Dickens classic – it is a definition of the word “precarious,” and sadly a daily reality for many employed in the fast food and hospitality sector here in Scotland.
On October 4 workers in McDonald’s, Wetherspoon’s and TGI Friday’s are coming together and taking a day of action against poverty pay and precarious work, an action that can change the face of trade unionism in this country by helping to build confidence among unorganised workers and in unorganised workplaces the length and breadth of this country whilst ultimately helping to bring exploitative employers to book.
The hospitality sector in itself is possibly the most unorganised sector within trade unionism.
It has until fairly recently seen little or no resistance to exploitative work practices by employers and the fact that more and more people are joining up with unions representing this sector and are prepared to take action speaks volumes.
Trade unions have certainly grasped the nettle and taken up the challenge of trying to rid this field of precarious and exploitative work practices. Particularly relevant has been the Better Than Zero campaign which is Scotland’s movement against precarious work fighting zero-hours contracts, zero rights and zero respect workplaces.
For many this campaign and others cannot come quickly enough. It’s a campaign that has invigorated young and old alike because let’s not forget this is not a campaign solely for the young: there is a popular misconception that this sector is predominantly populated with students working through their college and university years prior to graduation, but anybody with any knowledge of the sector will tell you that quite simply this is not the case.
It’s a campaign that the bakers’ union BFAWU has championed for some time and been encouraged and supported in by the trade union movement as a whole who see the benefits to campaigns for £10 an hour, and how our many campaigns for fast food workers give a much-needed shot in the arm to all those who suffer most from precarious work and poverty pay.
£10 an hour would instantly lift five million workers out of poverty and would benefit the economy because, unlike the rich, working-class people actually spend their net disposable income here in the UK and don’t hoard it in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying tax.
Furthermore, it would reduce dependence on in-work benefits, further reducing the cost to the state and removing reliance on foodbanks. It would also give people much needed dignity in work and reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace for the working poor. It would end the underpayment of youth, establishing one single rate of pay for a job, regardless of age.
Decent progress has been made already. Inspired by the strike action taken last year by McDonald’s workers in a dispute over zero-hours contracts and conditions, staff at Wetherspoon have taken a move by their bosses to bring forward an annual pay rise for workers from April next year to this November as a sign that the company is sufficiently worried about the possibility of the action spreading.
It is also worth noting that TGI Friday’s was named and shamed earlier this year by the government for failing to pay workers the legal minimum wage.
There has been a cumulative effect and it will continue to grow. Now more than ever we can see this due to the success of the campaigns in workplaces and their raised profile on both social media and in the press.
The resilience of both the working class and the trade union movement following concerted attacks from successive neoliberal governments will continue to grow: we have nothing to lose but our chains.
Jim Carlin is an executive council member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union.
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