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Restaurant Workers Protest against Fast Food Giants, Responding to High Court Legal Challenge on Wages

PRESS RELEASE: 16 March 2011

Restaurant and Catering Workers Forum

The Restaurant and Catering Workers Forum, established by SIPTU and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), staged a public protest today outside Burger King, Supermac’s and Eddie Rockets outlets.  These fast food chains form part of the Quick Service Food Alliance, an industry group mounting a legal challenge to the JLC (Joint Labour Committee) system which sets minimum wages and conditions for workers in the restaurant and catering industry.  The protest took place as the Food Alliance’s legal challenge was being heard before the High Court.

Although many fast food restaurants saw big profits in Ireland last year, they are joining other restaurants in challenging minimum wage protections for their workers.  For example, Supermac’s, a leading member of the alliance, last year reported that pre-tax profits were up 18 per cent to €6.2 million and added six new outlets in 2010.   Eddie Rocket’s last year reported pre-tax profits of €1.5 million.

Restaurant and catering workers are the lowest paid of any sector.   Their average weekly pay is €351 (just half of the national average).  The National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) has also reported that an overwhelming 79% of all catering establishments inspected in 2009 were found to be out of compliance with laws governing minimum rates of pay, payment of wages, and related employment protections.

According to Pat Ward of SIPTU, “The restaurant industry is driving an attack on minimum wage rates and basic protections for workers. This is not about saving jobs - companies like Supermac’s have actually seen their profits increase, while lower-wage workers are struggling to survive.  The industry’s attack on wages for the poorest workers is shameful. Now, more than ever, we must ensure protections remain in place for those who need them most.”

According to a 2010 TASC report, A Square Deal, wage rates in the restaurant sector are competitive and one of the lowest in the EU-15.   The TASC report also states that abolishing JLC pay scales for general workers would result in insignificant reductions in the price of a meal that would not increase customer demand.    For example, the cost of a €60 meal for two would reduce by just 61 cents per customer.  The report states that it is doubtful that these minimal price reductions would increase customer demand and address the primary issue of commercial rent.

“We have heard from hundreds of restaurant workers reporting unfair treatment and conditions of exploitation over the years,” according to Siobhán O’Donoghue, Director of MRCI. “Yet restaurants like Supermac’s and Eddie Rockets are looking for a reduction in wages and protections for workers.  The restaurant industry is driving an agenda that is bad for low wage workers and bad for Ireland.”

Oktay Gencoglu, a restaurant worker in Naas originally from Turkey, says, “Restaurant workers are already suffering to support our families.  Our hours have been cut and many of us have seen our wages cut too.  Any more cuts would be disastrous for us.  We are calling on the Quick Food Service Alliance to drop its challenge and for the Government to defend our wages from further attacks and cuts.”