TRADE union campaigners in Scotland are taking on the country's major fast-food chains to tackle low pay and poor working conditions.

Union officials claim a movement against firms such as McDonald's, KFC and Subway is gathering momentum and warn it could well lead to strike action similar to that seen in the US.

Workers in the States have already staged mass walkouts as part of the Hungry For Justice campaign which has now spread to other countries.

In the UK, there have been several rallies outside fast-food outlets -including in Glasgow and Aberdeen - with growing numbers of the traditionally non-unionised workers taking action.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) hopes the campaign will grow like the American movement, which began as a walkout by a few workers in New York but now has thousands of supporters.

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: "Obviously the movement is far more developed in the US and things are at an early stage here, but I think it's beginning to grow in Scotland.

"I'm not suggesting there will be 500 people turning up at meetings. These things are slow in the beginning … But when the first meetings for the living wage campaign were held they didn't attract that many people either, and look at where that has gone."

Moxham hopes one day to see fast-food workers here taking industrial action as their American counterparts have. "We don't want to exaggerate where we are just now", he said. "People are generally aware of how poor pay is in this sector and if the movement grows and if we aren't successful in shaming companies into paying more, then that could be a course of action we pursue in the medium term."

But he said as many workers are still not unionised, consumer campaigns will be at the forefront of the movement in the meantime.

Moxham said: "We saw this with the Starbucks corporation tax issue and it was very successful.

"So while an old-fashioned trade union organisation may not work here at the moment, we will undoubtedly continue to raise awareness among the workers, while also improving consumer and customer awareness.

"We'll be letting customers know that for very little extra cost, or in some cases for no cost at all, we could be assuring people have a living wage."

The UK campaign wants to see wages of £10 an hour instead of the current average rate for the sector of just over the national minimum wage of £6.50. For 18 to 20-year-olds, the minimum wage is £5.13, and for 16 to 17-year-olds £3.79. Apprentices earn £2.73 an hour.

The STUC wants pay set at the Scottish living wage of £7.85 initially, with a view to pursuing the higher rate of £10 later.

Moxham said this would be a significant starting point, adding: "I think that even introducing in the meantime the living wage would be a very positive step."

The campaign, led by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU) in the UK, also calls for an end to zero-hour contracts. Activists claim the contracts leave workers unable to plan for the future as they are unsure of their wages. They are also thought to make it hard to access the benefits system properly.

In the UK, most of the big fast-food firms use these contracts, with all Burger King employees and 90% of McDonald's workers on them.

BFAWU organiser Mark McHugh said: "We would like to see the majority of zero-hour contracts removed completely, but if it suits the individual then we want to see them used in the proper way.

"The biggest problem with these contracts is people can't plan for the future - they're living week to week.

"Over the summer holidays when the kids are off school, they could be working all the time, but when the schools go back they find their hours have been halved. This means that when they're looking at buying a car or renting a flat, they can't be sure that they'll be able to afford it. It's an unacceptable situation."

McHugh added that, while the movement is growing, many workers still feel intimidated.

"We've had quite a few people signing up in Glasgow," he said. "But I think people are put off by the scare factor of it. They think if they sign up to the union … management know they've signed up then the shift work will dry up. "

The union now plans action in Edinburgh and Dundee, giving customers leaflets explaining the pay and conditions issues.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said all its hourly paid staff start on more than the minimum wage and get benefits salaried staff have such as stakeholder pensions. "Our hourly paid employees receive an annual performance and salary review where they can earn an increase of up to 4.5%," she said, adding: "At this stage we are unable to pay the living wage."

A spokeswoman for Burger King said: "BKC does not make scheduling, wage or other employment-related decisions for the franchisees who independently own and operate almost 100% of Burger King restaurants. For decades, Burger King restaurants have provided an entry point into the workforce for millions of team members around the world."

No comment was available from KFC and Subway before the Sunday Herald went to press.