French McDonald’s worker threatens to set himself on fire over losing job

An employee at a McDonald’s in Marseille covered himself in gasoline and locked himself in the toilets in a desperate attempt to thwart the fast food joint from becoming a halal Asian restaurant.

French McDonald's worker threatens to set himself on fire over losing job
Photo: AFP

Staff and customers at a McDonald’s in the northern Marseille suburb of Saint-Barthélémy were left in a state of shock after one of the workers threatened to set himself on fire. 

The man, a trade unionist called Kamel Guemari, was enraged by the prospect of him and his colleagues losing their jobs with the planned change of hands and the restaurant becoming a halal Asian eatery.

Such was his desperation that he locked himself in a cubicle in the diner’s toilets on Tuesday having previously covered himself in gasoline from head to toe.

“I'm ready to give my life if it can save jobs,” Guemari shouted out.

He remained there for just over an hour, giving staff the chance to evacuate everyone and call emergency services.

Fortunately, firefighters managed to stop him before he set himself alight.

“We thought he was going to die,” one of the other McDonald’s workers told 20 Minutes, adding that two days after the incident the whole team remained traumatised.

They do however support Guemari’s actions, seeing it as a necessary evil after weeks of heated discussions and protests over the closing down of a McDonald’s restaurant many of them have worked at for years.

“I'm in limbo … The only thing looming is unemployment,” regretted Sofiane who had spent 11 years behind the till.

They’ve boarded up the restaurant in protest, piling up the chairs on top of the tables, and are refusing to vacate the premises for the new owner.

“This peaceful occupation is our way of resisting,” another employee told 20 Minutes.

Wednesday August 8th was the agreed handover day but the new owner of the halal fast food diner replacing the “McDo” did not turn up.

This whole uproar over the loss of jobs at a McDonalds restaurant may seem a bit far-fetched to some, but the diner is actually the second largest private employer in Saint-Barthélémy, a struggling Marseille neighbourhood with high unemployment (last population census 38,000 residents). 

“We must find a solution that will preserve the 77 jobs as the recovery project presented to us isn't good enough,” socialist politician Samia Ghali said.

It remains unclear what the charges against Guemari are but the employees have already hired a lawyer to open an appeal against the restaurant closure to be presented at Marseille's High Court on August 20.

“Kamel has the whole conflict on his shoulders from the beginning so we can understand that he cracked,” concluded Guemari’s colleague Sofia.

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40 years of Le Big Mac: Here’s how big France’s appetite for McDonald’s has grown

It's 40 years since the US burger giant McDonald's sold its first French fries in France. Here's a look at how the French fell in love with the Big Mac although the relationship has had its ups and downs over the years.

40 years of Le Big Mac: Here's how big France's appetite for McDonald's has grown
A McManure please. Farmers protest at a McDonald's in France in 199. Photo: AFP

The French may have invented nouvelle cuisine, but it seems the dish they love more than any other is served in a square cardboard box on a plastic tray.

The first French McDonald's restaurant – or McDo as they like to call it – opened 40 years ago on September 17th 1979 in Strasbourg and 40 years on the French cannot get enough of their French fries (though, in France, they are just called fries).

To see how much the French love McDonald's you just have to look at some of the stats:

  • 1.8 million – this is the amount of McDonald meals served up in France every day. That's almost two million meals every single day. 
  • 13 percent – this is the share of the restaurant market in France – the home of fine dining – that McDonald's has.
  • 1,464 – this is the number of McDonald restaurants currently in France, that's more than any other chain. The company aims to expand this by 300 – 400 in the next ten years. 
  • 74,000 – this is the number of people employed either full-time or part-time by the company in France. 62 percent of the team are less than 25 years old. 
  • 2nd – France is the second biggest market for McDonald's per head of population after the United States. 
  • 1st – the biggest McDonald's restaurant in the world is located in Disneyland Paris. 
  • €9 – is the average price of a meal in French McDonald's, making it the most expensive in the world. 

The French clearly have something of a love affair with McDonald's and it is reciprocated. When the company opened in France it was on the grounds that only French ingredients would be used, which is not the same in every country where McDonald's operates.

READ ALSO: Why do the French love McDonald's so much?

The menu has also been Frenchified.

Here they have at times sold the McBaguette with cheese and it isn't one of those plastic cheese slices, not on your life. In France, they use Camembert. You can also buy beer in French McDonald's, just in case you need a little kick with your breakfast McMuffin. 

In France there have been times when residents have protested against McDonald's closing or even demanded a new one open in their town.

Employees fighting to keep their McDonald's open in a suburb of Marseille said their restaurant had become the heart of the community, offering internships and jobs to people while providing a safe space for birthdays or meeting friend.

In a community in northern France a Facebook campaign garnered support among thousands and led to a street protest demanding a McDonald's open up in the area.


However, for as much as the French love McDonald's, they also love to hate McDonald's. The relationship has had its bumpy moments.

For decades, McDonald's was the brand French people loved to hate.

From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food”) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.

It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalisation — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.

French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald's which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.

French farmers raided the building site of the McDonald's in Aveyron and demolished it. They had announced their intentions in advance and invited spectators along, offering a Roquefort-tasting at the same time. It was in protest at the Americafication of France

“Roquefort d'abord McDo go home” (Roquefort first, McDo go home) read a slogan daubed on the trashed McDonald's. 

Support for the farmers grew and led to more protests at McDonald's across the country, including some where manure was deposited on the restaurants tills and floor.

The protest outside a McDonald's in Toulouse in 199 saw people turn up with traditional French dishes in protest at the American fastfood giant.

And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favourite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.

And there have also been clashes between McDonald's and the French state at a high level.

In 2016, the French taxman sent a bill for €300 million in unpaid taxes to McDonald's France. The profits were said to have been siphoned through Switzerland and Luxembourg. 

The fast-food restaurant also caused veritable outrage with some French food purists when it had the temerity to add potatoes to its Salade Nicoise in its Italian restaurants. Was nothing sacred any more? 

But despite the run-ins the French still queue up in droves for their burgers and even with the arrival of new rivals in the battle of the burgers like Burger King and Five Guys, McDo still reigns supreme.