An employee of McDonald's in Moscow has set a precedent in the court case over his dismissal. Yevgeny Druzhinin, a forklift truck operator at the McComplex factory, won the case for unfair dismissal after claiming that the strict reprimands issued against him for causing damage during his operational duties were really prompted by his involvement in a fledgling McDonald's union.

The Moscow branch of the fastfood behemoth is infamous for its dislike of worker's organisations, and Druzhinin claimed that it also broke the labour code in its treatment of him. He explained: "Before I joined the union last year, my relationship with management was very good. I was praised for my work and awarded the 1996 Best Worker prize." Since then, however, he has received many reprimands, which he claims were designed to back up the warnings he received "in a private conversation." He explained: "My superiors advised me to quit the union or face the consequences."

During 1999, Druzhinin received six warnings over discipline, more than enough for McDonald's to fire him. "All of a sudden, I started being reprimanded for drinking at work or abusing the company telephone," he said. Then a second major reprimand came with allegations that he had damaged one forklift battery and destroyed another, worth US$2500. Druzhinin claimed he had damaged only one battery and never seen the other.

The McDonald's plant has refused to comment on the court decision, claiming that it has yet to be received or reviewed. The company was also anxious to insist that while it is "committed to following the law if the legal requirements are fulfilled," the majority of employees had "never authorised a trade union to represent their interests."

In Russian law, however, a trade union can formally exist with as few as three employee members, and is considered registered after its founding meeting has been held. This McDonald's union has now got eighteen members, from a potential of 400 employees, having been founded in 1998 as a response to large-scale wage cuts.

According to Irina Stevenson, of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, a company's refusal to recognise the existence of a trade union is a common way to avoid negotiating with it, and "both Russian and foreign employers are equally guilty of playing this card."

Druzhinin's lawyer, Vladimir Lutoshkin, explained that the court decided that McDonald's had wrongly issued a strict reprimand against its employee, but Judge Tatyana Feodosova failed to explain exactly why she had ruled in Druzhinin's favour.