McDonald’s employees: “We want to be treated with dignity”

Organising a union for McDonald's employees is not only a matter of higher wages, but also of achieving dignity, and that is why they are joining together, explained a union representative employed in the well-known fast food chain.

McDonald's restaurant in Belgrade

“We’ve been working for too long in unsafe conditions, for wages that are not enough for a dignified life, and the only way to change that is to join forces and make companies listen to us”, said Uroš Milivojević, employee and representative at McDonald’s, at a press conference held on November 17 at the Media Center in Belgrade, dedicated to difficulties in union organising and the fight for better working conditions in the hospitality industry.

As Milivojević said, the story of his colleague who couldn’t take part in the conference due to knee surgery exhibits how the company treats its employees. According to Milivojević, his colleague moved slightly slower than the others after her knee injury. The manager of the restaurant where she worked showed no understanding towards the injured employee, but instead, insulted and belittled her, and told her she was incompetent and stupid, according to the union representative.

“It went as far as being harassed every 5-10 minutes in a single day, until she burst into tears. When she cried, the same manager said that she must never cry at work again so as not to disturb the guests with her tears,” said Milivojević. The general manager to whom his colleague complained, said that it was all completely normal and that it would happen to her at every job she worked on.

According to Milivojević, the employee in question was an easy target because she worked through a youth cooperative. He also said that another general manager at McDonald’s told him that she could easily fire anyone who was hired like that.

Jelena Krečković, who has spent 12 years in this company, confirmed that this kind of attitude of managers towards workers at McDonald’s is encouraged. She described how she agreed to poor working conditions, long shifts and constant transfers for a year because she was promised a promotion to manager. From her story, we learn that Krečković was ready to endure everything in order to ensure a secure future for her child as a single mother.

“A wasted year, a lot of night shifts, my child and I, as a single parent, suffered a lot in that year. I went above and beyond and accepted everything,” she says. What she couldn’t accept was the pressure to mistreat her colleagues.

“You’re kind to everyone, it just doesn’t work that way,” they told her.

Nezavisnost McDonald’s trade union press conference; Photo: Medija centar

“They want to change you as a person so that you can progress, which I think is disastrous. What kind of message are they trying to send? That people should hate you? That might be the case, but I just can’t agree with that,” said Krečković, adding that she wants to send a message of solidarity and support to all single mothers and parents who work in the hospitality industry, and who can’t rise up against poor working conditions out of fear for the fate of their families.

Bogdan Anokić, who worked at McDonald’s for fourteen years, stated that the conditions were always bad, but the workers were not even aware of what they were suffering and considered it normal.

Jonathan Johanson, campaign coordinator from IUF, the International Association of Workers’ Organisations in the Food Industry, Agriculture, Hotel, Hospitality and Tobacco Industry, which gathers 407 members in 126 countries on all continents, also addressed the media.

“Workers from this industry constantly talk about terrible working conditions in almost all countries, and what we hear in Serbia is not a unique story,” Johanson said. According to him, employees in this industry constantly put up with poor wages, unsafe conditions, unsafe and unhealthy working environment and sexual harassment. Johanson stated that it is an industry in which 12 million people are employed worldwide. A full sixth of them, he says, work at McDonald’s, a company that constantly increases the value of its shares, but does not share the profits that the workers generate with them.

He emphasised that workers around the world have been getting more serious about unionising to improve working conditions since 2014. In doing so, they are being hindered by employers. “Union-busting is disgusting in all languages,” Milivojević said.

Zoran Ristić from the Branch Union of Agriculture and Processing Industry “Nezavisnost” stated that the presented situation can be applied to every industry in Serbia, especially those where young employees dominate. He pointed out that the way unions are organised in the hospitality industry is very specific, which is why the approach to organising cannot be identical to that in the manufacturing industry and the public sector, where unions are traditionally stronger and have more members.

“Traditionally, we didn’t have a large number of members in the hospitality industry, but it’s time for that to change,” said Ristić. He assessed that the pressures, mobbing and even violence suffered by young employees in the hospitality industry indicate the need for young people to organise and try to protect their rights, and that the only way to do this is to organise in a union.

“Serbia has positioned itself as a cheap labour country,” the union representative pointed out. However, as he stated, the real cause of the outflow of labour and young people from Serbia is working conditions and not wages, as shown by surveys conducted by “Nezavisnost”. Ristić stated that the problem of emigration of 50,000 people from Serbia per year cannot be solved with declarations.

As Milivojević said:

“For us, organising is not only about higher wages, it is about achieving dignity, and that is why we are joining together. We demand a living wage, respectful treatment of our work, and predictable working hours.”


Translation from Serbian: Anastazija Govedarica Antanasijević

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on November 17, 2022.


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