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.