While we may have now become used to seeing news headlines about Employment Tribunal cases and trade union recognition bids involving gig economy workers asserting employment law rights, it is not often that we see them unite in strike action. However, a number of gig economy workers took part in co-ordinated industrial action last month - dubbed the “McStrike” and “Fast Food Shutdown” - calling for, among other things, changes to pay rates.
The unprecedented industrial action across eight British cities saw workers from the retail and hospitality sectors take part in co-ordinated walk-outs supported by trade unions, campaign groups and the Labour party. Workers from McDonalds, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons, as well as a number of drivers and couriers, were among those who went on strike.
What is perhaps most interesting thing is that the strike saw co-ordinated action across several different businesses and sectors, driven by a variety of different complaints. For example, McDonalds workers were calling for a living wage of £10 per hour, and TGI Friday workers were striking following a change to the company’s tipping policy which saw a percentage of waiting staff tips being allocated to kitchen staff in lieu of a pay rise.
The Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady described the strike action as “small but growing”.
At the moment the main unions driving gig economy action are also small: the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). However, membership is said to be on the rise among young gig economy workers.
A further protest took place last week, involving drivers, couriers, foster carers, university cleaners, medical couriers and restaurant staff, and passed the Royal Courts of Justice which is currently hearing an appeal against a decision to grant gig economy workers the right to the national minimum wage and holiday pay. Another rally took place in Glasgow.
This protest, dubbed the “rise of the precarious worker”, was the largest so far.
These strikes are unlikely to be the unions’ last effort to mobilise gig economy workers, particularly as social media now makes it far easier to coordinate industrial action; the “McStrike” is reported to have been organised via “Whatsapp” groups. We can therefore expect to see more co-ordinated strike action in the future, and not just impacting the “fast food” sector.