Author exposes McDonald's bun fight with unions

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The Independent Online

McDonald's, the hamburger giant, has been attacked for its employee relations in Continental Europe - just as it comes under pressure to allow unions to recruit in its UK outlets.

McDonald's, the hamburger giant, has been attacked for its employee relations in Continental Europe - just as it comes under pressure to allow unions to recruit in its UK outlets.

The fast food chain, which has won awards as an Investor in People, has been exposed for its heavy-handed tactics in seven European countries. Accusations include alleged attempts to prevent unions recruiting employees and blocking the creation of works councils.

The revelations, in a book by leading academic Tony Royle, come as the shopworkers' union, USDAW, attempts to persuade McDonald's to let unions into its outlets. The union had hoped that the new Employee Relations Act, which makes it easier for unions to be recognised, might help in the battle for better pay and conditions at the fast food group.

A spokesman for USDAW said: "McDonald's has been pretty intransigent. All we want is an opportunity to present our case to the workforce and get them to vote on whether they want union recognition."

According to the author of a study into McDonald's employment practices in Europe, USDAW could be fighting a losing battle. "The corporation is very good at getting round even the most stringent sets of regulations," said Mr Royle, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Business School. "It will be very difficult for the unions to make headway."

McDonald's has long used its corporate structure of franchised restaurants to argue that unions can only organise on an outlet-by-outlet basis. It has also used more heavy-handed methods to keep out the unions. Mr Royle found that in Italy, last year, union officials and workers at McDonald's reported harassment of union representatives. This coincided with a series of strikes that closed McDonald's restaurants in some parts of the north of Italy for two Saturdays.

In France, the company refused to enter into collective negotiations involving unions for 15 years, and in 1994 two McDonald's managers were arrested for interfering with works council elections.

In Germany, in 1995 the company paid around £250,000 in compensation to 46 staff members who agreed to leave the company. Coincidentally, all were members of works councils. McDonald's UK denies that the company is anti-union and says that Mr Royle's analysis refers to issues in the past, outside the UK. It said in a statement: "A diverse team of well-trained individuals working in partnership with the company is the key to success."

Working for McDonald's In Europe: the Unequal Struggle is published by Routledge in December.

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