A quarter of a million Australians could receive compensation if a potential class action against McDonald’s by the fast food union goes ahead.
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) has joined forces with Shine Lawyers to investigate whether the fast food chain systemically denied staff breaks they were legally entitled to.
The investigation will look into whether a ruling by the Federal Court, which found ex-McDonald’s employee Chiara Staines was not provided with paid rest breaks when she worked shifts longer than four hours, would apply to other employees.
“This breach could be the tip of the iceberg with potentially hundreds of thousands of staff, both past and present, affected, if McDonald’s and its franchisees have breached the Fair Work Act across the board,” said Shine Lawyers class actions practice leader Vicky Antzoulatos.
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Shine Lawyers and RAFFWU also litigated Staines’ case, who was paid more than $1,800 in compensation.
Under the Fast Food Industry Award 2010 as well as McDonald’s 2013 enterprise agreement, workers are entitled to 10-minute paid breaks if they work shifts between 4 and 9 hours long. Shifts that are longer than nine hours afford two paid breaks.
McDonald’s workers have the right to their paid breaks, Antzoulatos added, as well as their right to access the toilet or drink water outside these breaks.
According to RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan, a breach of the enterprise agreement and industry award could have implications for workers all across Australia.
“We believe [Staines’] experience is the average experience for a quarter of a million Australian workers who have worked at McDonald’s since September 2014,” said RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan.
“They’ve got young, vulnerable and hardworking crews locked into a huge system that appears to be great for McDonald’s but is crippling the workers.”
Former McDonald’s area leader Darcy Dunlop worked at the fast food chain for four years at Erina, NSW, but was refused paid breaks for his team members.
“You can’t sit, you can’t lean, you can’t go to the toilet without permission or get a drink of water, and if you ask for your owed break to be rostered in, you look like you’re letting your whole team down by being a trouble-maker,” Dunlop said.
“Your stress levels rise, the kitchen feels hotter, the finish line to a shift feels even further away, and I know this impacts on workers right across Australia, which is why I urge everyone to get involved.”
Widespread implications for businesses
A specialist at Australia’s largest workplace relations adviser, Employsure, said the potential class action had potential to trigger a wave of similar investigations by the workplace ombudsman.
“If the union wins, it means the spotlight will likely be shone by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on this issue and potentially start investigating fast food businesses and their compliance in relation to this,” the spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
In order to avoid being caught out, business owners should take action now to review their practices and ensure they are giving paid rest breaks correctly, the Employsure specialist added.
“Businesses should also think about how they are recording compliance with this, i.e. clock on, clock off system for breaks, or timesheet, etc, as they need to have the evidence that the employee is taking the rest break.
Rest breaks have to be ‘meaningful’ – that is, it can’t be stuck onto an extended lunch break, or used for late starts or early finishes – and must be accounted for in rosters.
A successful class action might also encourage other litigation funders to search for similar class action issues, and could face higher fines in court for breaches.
Are you eligible?
If you worked at McDonald’s from September 2014, you could be eligible to take part in the class action.
“If you worked shifts of 4 hours or more at a McDonald's restaurant anytime from 2014 to date, and were not given a full paid 10 minute break during your shifts, you are encouraged to register for this class action investigation,” states Shine Lawyer’s McDonald’s class action web page.
“Your entitlement to a paid 10 minute paid is in addition to workers' entitlements to using the toilet to drinking water outside their scheduled breaks.”
Registration is on a “confidential, no-cost, no-obligation basis,” the website said.
More information is available at https://mcdonaldsclassaction.shine.com.au/Registration.
Shine Lawyers can be contacted on 1800 325 172 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A McDonald’s spokesperson told Yahoo Finance it was yet to receive any notice of the proposed class action, and was unable to comment on the “veracity” of the union’s claims.
“We continue to work closely with our restaurants to ensure employees receive all the correct workplace entitlements and pay.
“We are of course disappointed this did not happen in the instance of Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd.
“As was represented to the Court at the time, the franchisee’s breach of the Enterprise Agreement was unintentional and did not result in any form of underpayment of wages.
“The franchisee has already implemented processes to ensure ongoing compliance.
“We remain committed to working with our employees and franchisees to ensure any concerns are addressed.
“A dedicated employee assistance hotline is available to any McDonald’s staff who may have queries regarding their employment conditions.”
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