Trade union SDA has lodged a multimillion claim in the Federal Court against McDonald’s Australia seeking compensation for about 900 current and former employees the union alleges have been denied paid rest breaks and misled about their rights.
The action covers more than 110 restaurants across Australia directly owned and operated by the fast-food company and follows eight previous Federal Court claims lodged by the SDA against McDonald’s franchise operators.
The claim, lodged in South Australia, is currently on behalf of 338 current and former McDonald’s staff employed across 92 restaurants, but the union is actively talking to others and has opened a website to recruit people who have worked for the company during the past six years, to join the action. McDonald’s denies the claim is valid and has vowed to defend it.
SDA national secretary, Gerard Dwyer describes the case as the biggest of its kind in Australian history, and “a groundbreaking moment for some of the most vulnerable workers across the country”.
“The fact that one of the largest employers of young Australians (on junior rates of pay) has been deliberately and systematically denying teenagers their breaks is astonishing. It takes a lot of courage to openly stand up and speak out against their employer and the SDA is proud to stand with them in ensuring these workers get what they’re owed.”
He said the action has the potential to impact thousands of workers Australia-wide and lead to millions of dollars of compensation payments if successful.
The union wants affected workers to be paid compensation for working through their breaks and for the company to be penalised by the court for breaching the Fair Work Act.
It alleges that along with concealing employees’ meal break entitlements, many store managers told workers they could have a free soft drink in lieu of a paid rest break and that they didn’t receive the breaks as they could go to the toilet or have a drink whenever they needed to. The SDA says the law provides for a 10-minute break for any staff member who works a shift of four hours or more.
“McDonald’s have been feeding crew members a cock and bull story about their break entitlements for too long,” said SDA South Australian branch secretary, Josh Peak.
“Fast food restaurants are busy, hot and the work is exhausting – it’s shameful to think young workers have been denied their rightful breaks and told they don’t exist. Paid rest and drink breaks aren’t optional, they’re a right for all fast-food workers,” he said.
“It shouldn’t have to take nine Federal Court claims for McDonald’s to clean up their act.”
McDonald’s, in a statement, told Inside Retail it intended to defend the claim fully.
“McDonald’s believes its restaurants complied with applicable instruments, provided rest breaks to employees and were consistent with historic working arrangements. Those arrangements have been known to the SDA for many years. The manner of taking breaks has not been challenged or raised by the SDA as a matter of concern throughout successive enterprise bargaining processes for new industrial agreements,” the company said.
“We are very mindful of our obligations under applicable employment laws, including the former enterprise agreement and the Fast Food Industry Award, and continue to work closely with our restaurants to ensure employees receive all correct workplace entitlements and pay. Seen in this context, the present claim is both surprising and disappointing. We value our employees highly and the great contribution they make to the success of the business.”