One of Australia’s largest McDonald’s franchise operators is facing Federal Court proceedings for allegedly threatening to restrict workers from going to the toilet or drink water outside of break times.
The Queensland-based franchisee, Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd (Tantex) which runs at least six branches in the state is being sued by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RFFWU) for subjecting young employees to “cruel and inhumane working conditions”.
It is the first time in Australian history McDonald’s has been taken to the Federal Court by a union and workers for breaching employee entitlements, RFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan said.
Court documents filed by the workers’ union in the Federal Court last week cited a “threat” that was allegedly made by Tantex general manager Chris Crenicean to employees at the Windsor West store in Brisbane.
The union claimed Mr Crenicean made it seem like McDonald’s Tantex could “lawfully prevent Windsor West Employees from drinking water or using the toilet outside of their scheduled breaks”.
A screenshot of the posting which was allegedly made by Mr Crenicean on a private Facebook group for staff at the Windsor West branch, and subsequently leaked to the RFFWU and provided to Yahoo News Australia, was reportedly in response to staff lobbying for a “ten minute break after four hours of work”.
“If we implement this [ten minute break] over our current situation on your shift –– this ten minute break would be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet,” Mr Crenicean wrote.
“So I hope to god you don’t get thirsty on your next shift because we just wouldn’t be able to allow a drink. Fair is Fair, right?”
RFFWU said this “constituted a threat” in its statement of claim, and also added that the McDonald’s general manager made these statements to workers “knowing they were false or reckless as to their truth”.
McDonald’s staff have been entitled to paid ten minute drink breaks under McDonald’s Australia Enterprise Agreement 2013, which was approved by the Fair Work Commission on July 24, 2013, the union’s claim stated.
“It is unconscionable to deny workers, many of whom are children, to use the toilet when required or to drink water,” RFFWU’s claim said.
Worker says she suffered ‘damage and loss’
In addition to McDonald’s Windsor West store, Tantex has also been accused of beaching the Fair Work Act for denying staff paid drink breaks at their Myer II McDonald’s store in Brisbane’s CBD.
Prominent Brisbane businesswoman Tanya Manteit-Mulcahy who owns Tantex with her husband Terry Mulcah, has also been accused by the union and workers of exploiting staff at the Myer II, Windsor West and Central Station stores where she held “overall managerial responsibility”.
Chiara Staines, 20, was employed at the McDonald’s Myer II store from May 8, 2017, until June 15, 2019, whereupon she said she quit in protest over her treatment.
The former employee has joined the RFFWU in launching legal action against Tantex for breaching the McDonald’s Agreement of giving staff paid ten minute’s leave and making her suffer “damage and loss”, according to the joint claim.
The 20-year-old is seeking compensation for the paid breaks she was denied.
Allegations of ‘coercion’ and ‘threats’
RFFWU Josh Cullinan claims the problem is “endemic” across McDonald’s stores in Australia.
The issue was put in the spotlight by a union campaign in late 2018 advising fast-food workers of their right to the paid ten minute break after four hours of work.
“Workers started talking about it and that’s when management started saying, ‘Well, alright, you’re all loud-mouthing about these breaks, if you insist, we’ll give it to you but we’ll ban you from going to the toilet or having water,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
Mr Cullinan referred to this “coercion” of workers as the basis of the prosecution against Tantex.
Also alleged in RFFWU’s statement of claim against the franchise operators is the accusation that management prohibited staff from calling in sick on public holidays or after 10pm for shifts the following day.
Screenshots taken by staff which they claim were of posts made by McDonald’s management to private Facebook groups were also detailed in the court forms filed by the fast-food workers union.
One of the posts said: “Christmas and Boxing Day shifts are final. There are no shift swaps or sick calls on public holidays”.
Another post cited in documents tendered to court said: “We are a 24 hour trading restaurant. I will not accept a sick call past 10pm for an open”.
Last week during its first hearing, Federal Court Judge John Logan ordered the case to be heard on June 1 and 2 next year.
Tantex must file its defence to RFFWU’s allegations by February 7. When Yahoo News Australia requested Tantex’s response, McDonald’s said it was unable to comment on the specifics of the case due to it being currently before the courts.
“We work closely with our restaurants to ensure all our employees receive the correct entitlements and pay; and we have a dedicated employee assistance hotline available to any McDonald's staff members who have queries regarding their employment conditions,” a McDonald’s spokesperson said.
“This allows us to work with restaurants to ensure any concerns are addressed.”
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