Introduction The fast-food industry has been developing rapidly and has successfully penetrated majority of the markets globally, at the same time bringing about several significant changes in practices, work and employment relations. Fast-food restaurants are distinguished and characterized by their inexpensive food products prepared in a standardized method that is dispensed to their customers quickly and efficiently for takeaway or dine-in and are usually packaged without the provision of utensils. However, the rapid expansion and proliferation of the industry was not a smooth transition, instead, it has brought about several controversies and criticisms. Such growth and success has brought disadvantages to workers’ rights, wages and the conditions of work (Royle & Towers, 2002) as well as providing a greater insight on how work and employment relations should be better managed. In addition, it also brought to light that not all protocols, standards and practices of the fast-food company fits the different markets globally perfectly, due to the different cultures, mindsets and preferences, which we will be exploring in depth in this essay – in particular, the fast-food industry in Singapore, Germany and United States. Even though major corporations were to set up fast-food restaurants in the listed countries, similarities and differences will arise and we will discuss this in the essay. The Fast-Food Labour force The fast-food industry has showed several trends in their employment practices in different countries with each workforce showing distinct characteristics. This is because the fast-food companies generally tend to aim the flawed and insignificant group of the labour market, with majority of the employees being inexperience, low-skilled, young and easily replaceable labour. In addition, due to the nature of this industry, the job scope is highly standardized and repetitive, thus it is seen to be a job that has low and unpromising future prospects. It has also played a big role in causing the proliferation of insecure, unstable, part-time and low wage employment. We will now look into the similarities and differences between Singapore and the 2 other countries’ fast food industry, using a good example by McDonalds’. First of all, Singapore and United States’ labour force shows parallels in the type, nature and mindsets and displayed high labour turnover rates. The Singapore fast-food industry labour force is generally made up of a range of different age groups with differing qualifications. For instance in restaurant outlets, restaurant managers are usually secondary school leavers and the crew members usually hold low education qualifications. However employees working in the headquarters are experienced, skillful and highly qualified – often graduates or those who had previous managerial experience. The employees based in the headquarters are offered better employment benefits and prospects as findings showed that each executive has an individually negotiated employment contract (Pereira, 2002), and they tend to deal with more challenging and more enriching jobs. However, employees in the outlets see their job in McDonalds’ as a short-term temporary job with no promising future prospects and as large percentage of the part-time crew consists of students, they will leave the job upon graduation or if they found a better job with better prospects, permanent and with better benefits rather than continue working with McDonalds’. Even so, McDonald’s attempted to retain their youth employees – restaurant managers especially, by treating them like ‘professionals’, having more professional seminars but they eventually did not stay long. Due to Singapore’s changing demographics, low birth rates and the fact that more individuals are graduating higher educational qualifications- a degree, the labour pool that McDonalds’ can tap into has become relatively much smaller thus they have turned to employing the elders whom to, are pleased and have accepted the low wages and lesser employment benefits for the convenience of work location, less commitment and the simplicity of the jobs. This is when the pattern of the labour shift to the elderly, as by late 1990s, 40 per cent of all employees in McDonalds’ are elders consisting of housewives or retirees (Royle & Towers, 2002) and partly because it was illegal for foreign workers to work in fast-food industry. True enough, for the case of United States, their abour workforce is made up of youth too, as shown in a 1994 study that almost 70 percent of fast-food workers were 20 years old or younger (Van Giezen, 1) and most of them have low expectations on their salary, employment benefit and sees their job as temporary (Leidner, 2002). Similar to Singapore, their labour workforce also consist of elderly as well as women with children employees that shares the same expectations as that of the youth employees. This is usually due to their preference for part-time job. Majority also proceed on to other better jobs as they perceive it to be a temporary one. Thus, we can see that United States have generally a younger labour force, due to the society’s general mindset that a fast-food job is a appropriate first job experience and the fact that there’s no requirement for skilled experienced employees, thus, displaying the similar traits in the age and type of labour force of the fast-food industry for both Singapore and United States. On the contrary, the labour workforce differs greatly between Singapore and Germany. As discussed in the above part, we distinguished that Singapore has a more elderly workforce with lesser youth employees and no foreign workers employed. In addition, the labour turnover – as compared to Singapore, is not high. This is because a large percentage of the labour in Germany is made up of ethnic minorities – foreign workers, economic migrants from the old Eastern Bloc and guest workers mostly from Turkey and Greece (Royle, 2002). The economic migrants and guest workers took up a large percentage – 50 percent to 90 percent of the workforce, unlike that of Singapore’s- where foreign workers are not allowed to work in the fast-food industry. Employee representation in the fast-food industry Employee representation varies between different countries and the state laws and regulations may be more pro-employees or pro-employers, which will be explored in paragraphs below. Employee representation comes in the form of trade unions, work councils, co-determination and collective bargaining. Trade/Work unions are ….. As the industry expands rapidly, it gives rise to an unhealthy employment environment where there’s no prospects for future growth or promotion in their career, poor wages and benefits, stressful environment and these usually takes place in a union-free environment (Royle & Towers, 2002). Companies are increasingly denying employees their rights and benefits and the situation is aggravated without the presence of trade unions or favorable employees regulations, as employees might be unable to voice out their concerns or request for their employment rights. In this case, Singapore and United States are similar as both nations have the least regulated systems (Royle & Towers, 2002) and their laws and regulations are seemingly to be pro-employers. In Singapore, since its independence day – industrial peace is the main objective from the creation of the legal framework and unions can only be formed under conditional rules and under the judgment of the Labour Minister (Deyo, cited in Pereira, 2002). In addition, Singapore is described having a ‘authoritarian corporatist model’ where they view politicized trade unions as a threat that will unstable the political system as well as a group that might collude to request for outrageous demands. As labour is a precious and essential resource of Singapore, they learnt from the problems before 1995 that strikes, interunion disharmonious relations and political interference has contributed a lot to the decline of the economy. Thus, the government has decided to reinforce labour laws and regulations to ensure industrial peace (Tan, cited in Pereira, 2002). However, the Industrial Relations Act did not include issues such as retrenchment, promotion, dismissal, work assignments and such terms are to be negotiated between the employers and the employees (Pereira, 2002). This showed that the laws in Singapore gave power to the employers. However, there are still some areas that the government has set aside to protect the basic rights of the employees such as stating down their work hours, number of paid annual and sick leave, and overtime rate. The government has also made the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) the only national union body of Singapore and all unions had to be affiliated with them (Leggett, cited in Pereira, 2002). NTUC also worked with the National Wage Council were they discuss with the government, employers and employees to assess the wages annually and revisions of wages and guidelines will be generally be adopted by large multinational and local corporations. For the employees, they have an option to join a union (Tan, cited in Pereira, 2002). An excellent example would be the employees in McDonalds’. They believe that unions are not required, as they have their own Human Resource Management Programme that helps keep their workers appeased and promote loyalty within them to the company. However, the workers have never considered a collective representation as firstly, it is not necessary for them to join a union, next is because they are pleased with whatever has already been offered to them in terms of wages and benefits. Similarly to United States, the employers in the fast-food industry have the upper hand in determining the conditions of employment as there is very little presence of trade unions and strict regulations, thus allowing them more freedom to implement their own rules. Technically, the workers have no or little rights to their employment and the employers have ‘no legal obligation of fairness’ (Leidner, 2002), thus showing similar pro-employer labour regulations traits as Singapore. However, one distinct difference is that workers in America are not protected with basic rights, unlike Singapore workers, as paid vacations and paid holidays are provided at the discretion of the employers and not legally mandated (Rasnic, cited in Leidner, 2002). The stressful and competitive environment of the fast-food industry in United States, bundled with the employer-bias regulations has disadvantaged the employees greatly. Even though the workers are unhappy and discontent with their job, it has not led to result in unionization. This is due to the young and inexperienced work not educated about unions, has came to terms with their wages and benefits as they have low expectations, sees the job only temporary, and are unsupportive of labour laws (Leidner, 2002). One other reason for the lack of unionization is because of the resistance by the fast-food corporations, who openly declared that they are anti-unions. In conclusion, even though Singapore and United States showed slight differences, it generally showed a greater similarities in terms of how the regulations are pro-employers, the reason of the lack of unionization and how fast-food corporations are technically undaunted by unions, or the lack of it, and are able to actively promote their own set of corporate regulations for work and employment relations. As compared to Singapore, the German system can be seen as being the opposite end of the spectrum as far as workers’ rights are concerned. Germany has a highly juridified industrial relation system complete with formal legalization of trade unions and a comprehensive system of work councils suggests that it might be one of the better development of employee representation (Royle & Towers, 2002). Basically, employees in Germany are supported by the work unions, unlike that of Singapore where most regulations are employer-bias, and union participation in optional. However, even with such systems implemented in Germany, the unions encountered barriers to increase workers’ benefits, wage levels, forming union supported work councils and ensure that the companies comply to the collective agreements. For instance, McDonalds’ has effectively managed to evade collective agreements and defy work councils for 18 years and counting, showing the difficulty of work force to have a say even with the presence of work unions. Another difference between Singapore and Germany is also how the fast-food corporations work with the unions. In Singapore, the laws are favourable for them as it employer-bias thus they are able to instill their own practices and methods for employee and work relations. On the other hand, German national fast-food companies usually adopt co-operative methods and relations to deal with the unions even though some still take an anti-union position (Royle & Towers, 2002). Eventually, they are still able to turn the tables around, evading strict rules and able to set their own systems and practices.
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