McDonald's worker - "I ended up homeless with a then 2 year old daughter"

I have been working for McDonalds since March 2009. I have been a Unite delegate since around October 2009. I had only joined the Unite Union a few months prior to that. When I joined the union I wasn’t necessarily pro union but I knew it was good to be a member as my father is a member of a different union at his workplace and they have helped him when he has been in certain predicaments.

The thing that changed my thoughts from being neutral about unions to being pro union was the first time I needed their help.

I wish I had called them sooner. I was originally hired as a full time worker after the new store opened and the hype died off, they decided they didn’t need as many staff, so they cut down my hours. Up until this point, I tried my best to be a good employee and stayed on longer when needed. I did extra shifts when they were understaffed.

After numerous times of telling them I needed more hours and that I wasn’t getting enough; This even included a meeting with a couple of managers and I was told that the hours weren’t there and I was only receiving an average of 29 hours a week anyway, my hours still did not improve and I wasn’t even getting 29 hours a week either. I ended up homeless with a then 2 year old daughter. This was probably the worst parenting moment I have had. There is no worse feeling than not even being able to feed your kid or put a roof over their head. One person has even said to me I don’t think you can blame your homelessness on the minimum wage. Sure I can, if I was earning a decent wage, it wouldn’t have mattered as much that my hours were cut down, I still would have been able to afford the basics.

It was only at this point that I called the union. After a chat with the union organiser for Wellington, he contacted management, and my hours finally increased again.

In so many ways the union has helped me working at Mc Donald’s whether via other union members or myself, the union has enabled me to take breaks with which I was entitled when Mc Donald’s refused. Simple employment rights are now being enforced thanks to the union and I have the freedom to speak up about any issues whereas I did not feel I could before I joined.

So many people believe fast food work is only worth minimum wage. The people that have these thoughts usually have some cushy office job, get paid too much and don’t actually realize what these normally 16 and 17 year olds have to put up with and how stressful it can actually be. If jobs were paid according to the stress levels and how physically demanding they are, minimum wage jobs would be the highest paid, not just in fast food but trolley boys in the supermarkets – they have to be out in all sorts of weather. Checkout workers at supermarkets, they stand in one spot for hours on end, trying to keep a smile on their face despite dealing with rude customers that blame them for price increases.

Just because someone is working in a low paid job, does not entitle people to belittle them and it doesn’t mean they are unskilled. Its means they took the first job they could find and with the unemployment stats being so high, so many people are not working in jobs they are trained in.

I have recently heard of a lot of talk about bringing back youth rates. Apparently this will help with lowering unemployment. Just because an employer can hire two people for the price of one does not mean they will. It means more youth will be exploited and higher profits will be made. If you only have enough work for one person, why would you hire two people to do that work? You wouldn’t. During the Mana by-election, Act Party candidate, Colin Du Plessis said if the minimum wage was lowered more people could buy houses. If people can not afford to buy a house earning $12.75 an hour, how are they supposed to buy a house earning less than this. It is hard enough trying to rent a house and pay bills earning the minimum wage.

Minimum wage will be increasing by a measly 25 cents in April. As a fellow Unite member and delegate has said ‘It’s a joke, I think we need $15 an hour’. Any one who has tried to survive on minimum wage knows this. It is hard enough trying to support yourself on such measly wages, it is even harder when you have others to support as well. 2/3rds of the average wage is around $17hr. I don’t understand why it would be so hard for employers to pay $15hr. The reality is that the vast majority of employers could pay a higher wage but don’t because it would cut into their profits.

What I would like to see are all the low paid workers that don’t think it is right that they should be working their arses off for very little reward join together and fight back and demand fair treatment and wages. We need a rebellion of low paid workers.

- Lisa Stoneham, SA Wellington


jahnaya said…
what you have said is so true. workers need to work together to get more money so that people don't become homeless especially if they have children. that is sad is so many ways. with me i work at McDonald's as well don't get that rostered hours but when it comes to them needing work and they ring me i don't say no. every one should be getting the same amount of hours. like recently i have just had an hour increase on part time to 10 hours a week.

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