As McDonald’s reopens all 924 of its restaurants in the UK and gradually restarts delivery to many of its sites, workers and unions are wondering if it is safe for employees to return and if rules of social distancing could be followed closely. kitchens. With its reopening, a significant number of its employees are faced with the difficult choice of becoming more and more vulnerable to COVID-19 or of continuing to experience financial difficulties.
These safety concerns are particularly relevant to the many low-paid workers in the fast food chain, who often have minimum wages or zero-hour contracts, and have not been at work since late March. In addition, the risk of returning to work is something which, according to the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), is particularly true for black, Asian and ethnic minority workers (BAME), a demographic group that is disproportionately represented at McDonald’s, particularly in London.
Daniel Nkwocha-Dyer, a 24-year-old worker at a McDonald’s branch in south London, said he was “worried” about increasing his risk of catching COVID-19 after he returned to work on June 2. Although he received about 80% of his salary while on leave, he said that the reduced amount of his already low salary was not enough to live on, so he felt that he had no other choice. than come back. He now feels “worried about contracting the disease without knowing it”.
“Companies prioritize profit, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of human life,” said Nkwocha-Dyer, who estimates that at least two-thirds of the staff at his branch are not white. “I would have personally kept them closed a little longer and continued to pay the time off. I would also have paid everyone 100% of their salary because if you consider McDonald’s to be a huge company and one of the biggest employers in the world, I am sure they can afford to pay 100% of the wages of their employees. ”
“McDonald’s workers come disproportionately from black communities, ethnic minorities and migrants,” a BFAWU spokesperson told Eater. “This is particularly the case in cities like London. When McDonald’s does not respect its workers, the rights of black workers are at stake. BAME workers face additional barriers to asserting their rights at work, which is why studies have shown they win the most to have a union and suffer the most when employers refuse to join unions. McDonald’s does not publish demographics of its workforce, with the exception of its Gender Pay Gap report.
Since reopening its drive-thru service last week, demand for McDonald’s food has been high across the country, with long queues reported at many branches and one reportedly forced to close due to concerns about the ability of its customers to practice social distancing.
The reopening of the fast food chain for drive-through and delivery occurred the same week that Public Health England (PHE) was forced to publish a delayed report, originally promised in late May, on risk disparities and COVID -19 results. He found that people from BAME have been disproportionately affected by the new coronavirus, which has raised additional concerns among workers and unions that the multinational company is putting much of its workforce at risk. . The report also caused warnings from MPs about the government’s lack of action to protect those most at risk.
Among its main findings, the 89-page PHE report found that mortality rates from COVID-19 were “the highest among black and Asian ethnic groups”. He also says: “After taking into account the effects of gender, age, deprivation and region, people of Bangladeshi origin were about twice as likely to die than people of British origin. white. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black origin were between 10 and 50 percent more likely to die compared to British whites. He confirmed the findings of a previous Office of National Statistics report that, taking into account age, “Black men were 4.2 times more likely to die from COVID-related death.” 19 than white men. “
New document puts increased risk for BAME community on a number of factors, including greater likelihood of living in urban and disadvantaged areas and overcrowded households, as well as working in jobs that put them at risk higher. He also cites leaders among the professions who reported “significantly high” death rates from COVID-19.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all restaurants and pubs closed on March 20, the government allowed companies to operate take-out and deliver throughout the foreclosure, with a set of guidelines on how to operate safely.
After conducting a series of tests before reopening its branches, McDonald’s implemented a series of security measures, such as social separation, Plexiglas screens, masks for employees and more frequent hand washing. This approach is in line with government guidance, which recommends measures such as frequent cleaning, hand washing, the use of personal protective equipment and the installation of screens and barriers. “The most important consideration for us to reopen has been the well-being of our employees and the creation of an environment conducive to their return to work,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told Eater. The company also operates with a reduced menu in order to have fewer people working in its kitchens. The company did not provide Eater with details of the specific epidemiological advice given to it before it reopened.
But workers fear the new safety measures may not be enough to prevent future coronavirus outbreaks, and unions fear that some workers will go to work with symptoms because they cannot afford not to to do. “McDonald’s employees are entitled to statutory sickness benefits, which is around £ 95 per week, not much money to survive,” said a BFAWU spokesperson in Eater. “One of the concerns we have is that workers are going to work with symptoms.” The union added that those on flexible or zero-hour contracts may be even more likely to attend work with symptoms, just to make up for the hours it takes to pay the rent.
“It was incredibly strange to have to wear a mask and be very aware of not touching my face or anything else,” said Nkwocha-Dyer from his first day back. “It’s the cleanest I have ever seen a McDonald’s, which is good. It’s a little strange that it took a global pandemic to get some cleanliness. He says the dividers and barriers have helped him respect social distancing, but that it “was not very easy” to stay away from colleagues.
Amma, an employee of another McDonald’s in south London whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, fears that social distancing is not possible in a tight kitchen. “As a manager, I still have to walk around to check that people are doing their job properly. How will I do this if I stand two meters away? ” she said.
Meanwhile, Erica, a single mother who works at a branch in south-west London and whose name has also been changed, believes that women and BAME people have been most affected by the coronavirus, either financially or in terms of health, due to structural sexism, racism and classism. “Women and people belonging to ethnic minorities are always those who are at the bottom of the barrel; it’s a social issue, “she said. “This is why women are paid less than men. Women are paid less than men and black women are paid less. Black people get less than that. Everything comes from classism. You would not be able to have racism if you did not have classism. ”
While Erica declined McDonald’s invitation to return to work because she felt rushed and was “afraid” to come back, she said that she will have to come back sooner or later because she cannot live with 80%. of her salary – last year she joined a strike for higher wages. “I really can’t afford to live on what they give me, but at the same time, do that and risk falling ill and dying and moving away from my son, or risking transfer it to someone else, so they get sick and die? ”
Throughout the lockout, the BFAWU urged chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell to supplement the remaining 20% not covered by the government holiday plan to supplement what it calls “wages” of misery ”. In 2019, McDonald’s reported $ 100 billion in system-wide revenue, recording its strongest comparable sales growth in the world in more than a decade.
“Workers who are disproportionately from migrants and BAME work for an international company which is extremely wealthy and should be able to implement adequate health and safety, yet experience elsewhere has not been the case. case, “said the BFAWU spokesperson in Eater.
The reopening in the UK comes amid a series of strikes and lawsuits against McDonald’s in the United States. In May, employees of Oakland, California, went on strike after workers were allegedly wearing masks made of diapers for dogs and at least four workers fell ill with COVID-19. In Chicago, McDonald’s employees filed a class action against the chain, accusing it of having failed to comply with government safety regulations. An employee in Detroit said that security measures for the fast food chain were not strictly enforced.
On this side of the Atlantic, the BFAWU encourages those who return to work to verify that their working conditions comply with McDonald’s safety measures. He shared a “safety quiz” developed by union affiliate McStrike, asking employees a series of questions to better understand if they can get home safely.
“We have gathered information from different workers to educate them on what they should expect in terms of health and safety at work, so that they are allowed to go to work and know that their demands are reasonable”, explains the BFAWU spokesperson. “Very often the power imbalance is serious, so their inability to make requests to their supervisor and assert their health and safety rights at work is quite limited and can be very difficult . “
While Nkwocha-Dyer is able to walk to work on foot, many of his colleagues, including Erica and Amma, have to use public transportation, which further increases their risk.
“There are a large number of people working there who are BAME and that, in itself, puts us even more at risk,” says Nkwocha-Dyer. ” [The government report] shows that BAME people have been disadvantaged for centuries, most likely. This is another layer of the fight. ”