Trade unions and progressive political parties in Serbia have extended support and solidarity to the workers of US-based fast food chain McDonald’s who are facing hardship in the country. On Wednesday, November 23, the New Communist Party of Yugoslavia (NKPJ) and the Union of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) expressed solidarity with the workers. On November 17, a press conference was held in the national capital Belgrade by McDonald’s employees and representatives of unions like Nezavisnost and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to discuss the hardships faced by workers in McDonald’s outlets. Workers complained of low wages and unsafe working conditions and said that they want the company to treat them with dignity. They also called for intensified unionization in the sector.
Masina reported that in the press conference, three long-time workers of McDonald’s outlets detailed their grievances including low wages, poor working conditions, long shifts, constant transfers, insults and abuses. Jonathan Johanson, campaign coordinator from IUF, said that “Workers from this industry – with a workforce of 12 million people – talk about terrible working conditions in almost all countries, and McDonald’s – a major employer in the sector – constantly increases the value of its shares, but does not share the profits that the workers generate with them.”
According to Zoran Ristić from the Union of Agriculture and Processing Industry (Nezavisnost), unionization in the hospitality industry is very specific and different from that in the manufacturing industry.
“Traditionally, we didn’t have a large number of members in the hospitality industry, but it’s time for that to change,” he said.
Milos Karavezic from the secretariat of the SKOJ told Peoples Dispatch on November 23, “while we hear in media and see on billboards how McDonald’s company constantly advertises employment and a great beginning for our young citizens to get some working experience, workers in this fast food chain talk about how they are actually abused and how they are suffering from their bosses on the job every day. Their earnings are miserable, and they receive threats of dismissal for every attempt to organize. McDonald’s, like every other big company which is only caring about capital, chooses any means to stop any union action, but in Serbia they encounter increasingly strong resistance.”
“NKPJ and SKOJ stand firmly with the workers of McDonald’s in the fight for their rights. Only organized, unionized workers, led by the vanguard party, can succeed in the class struggle against McDonald’s big capital,” he said.
According to Marko Miletic, editor of Masina, the trade union at McDonald’s in Serbia was founded in 2019 after a year of attempts to register it. He has told Peoples Dispatch that since the formation of the union in McDonald’s, workers have faced pressure and attacks to prevent the union from expanding at this fast food restaurant chain.
“Restaurant managers, as well as managers in lower positions, tell workers that union membership is an obstacle to career advancement, as well as that the union works against the interests of the company, while some workers were also faced with threats of losing their jobs if they did not leave the union.”
“However, the problems associated with organizing are only part of the problem for many McDonald’s workers – they started organizing to fight for livable wages, demand that management respect them as people and workers, and allow them to work fixed working hours so that they can plan their everyday activities,” added Miletic.