SCORES of fast food outlets have launched a legal challenge over payment and employment conditions for its workers, it emerged yesterday.
The case is being taken by the newly formed Quick Service Food Alliance (QSFA), which also warned that current legislation would lead to job losses and businesses closures due to labour costs.
The QSFA represents 170 businesses in the fast food sector including Subway, Supermacs and McDonald's.
It said it was to take a High Court challenge to the rights of the Catering Joint Labour Committee (JLC) to set minimum wages and employment conditions for workers in the catering industry.
However, SIPTU called it an action of "hypocrisy and greed of the fast buck food outlets".
The Catering JLC formulates pay and conditions proposals of workers in the industry which, if approved by the Labour Court, legally binds employers to pay certain wage rates and provide conditions of employment. However,the QSFA now contends that the JLC has no right to make such a legally binding provision, as Section 15 of the Constitution states that the sole and exclusive power to make laws is vested in the Oireachtas, and no other authority has power to make laws for the State.
It also argued that the existence of the minimum wage and 25 other pieces of legislation protecting employees' rights means that there is no need for JLCs. The chairman of the QSFA, John Grace, warned that the situation would lead to job losses and closures.
"The application of the JLC on their business represents an approximate 20pc increase in labour costs," Mr Grace said.
"This is compounded by the proposals for sick pay and paid breaks."
He added that many restaurants have been forced to close on Sunday by the double-time payment issue.
"The quick food sector is not recession-proof, contrary to some commentators, and all our members report a downturn in business."
In response, SIPTU condemned the legal challenge.
"If they were honest they should at least have the decency to call themselves the fast buck food alliance and stop their hypocritical posturing," said SIPTU national industrial secretary Gerry McCormack.
According to Mr McCormack, the legal challenge by the QSFA may delay proper pay and conditions in fast food outlets, affecting "some of the most exploited workers in the country", but that little else would be achieved.
Under-18s who begin work in a fast food restaurant can expect to earn around €6 an hour (70pc of minimum wage).
When staff pass the age of 18 they move on to €6.92 per hour (80pc of minimum wage) and continue to receive 10pc annual increments until they reach the full minimum wage of €8.65 after two years. After that they may receive further rises.
Supervisors can receive annual salaries of anything from €20,000 to €30,000, depending on shifts.