A McDonald’s restaurant on the NSW Mid North Coast is under investigation by SafeWork NSW following reports that staff were ordered to keep working despite being told by fire authorities to “seek shelter”.
Sources told Yahoo News Australia that on Friday, November 8, when multiple suburbs in Port Macquarie came under threat, McDonald’s workers at the highway branch were instructed to keep working.
Staff at the McDonald’s Port Macquarie Highway branch had received geo-located emergency warnings via their mobile phones from the Rural Fire Service on Thursday night and again on Friday afternoon which have been seen by Yahoo News Australia, informing them there were “multiple fires” in the region and they needed to “seek shelter”.
Similar warnings were issued by the fire authority to their official social media pages, showing the impacted areas.
EMERGENCY WARNING: LIndfield PArk Rd, Port Macquarie
The fire has breached containment lines and crossed the Pacific Hwy at Thrumster. If you are in the area of Thrumster and Sovereign Hills, seek shelter as the fire impacts. The Pacific Hwy is closed. #nswrfs #nswfires #alert pic.twitter.com/uhBMpC0c0R
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 8, 2019
However, management at the restaurant instructed staff to remain at the store, despite the adjacent fast-food chains KFC, Subway and Oliver’s Real Food all shutting their doors so staff could evacuate.
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RFFWU) told Yahoo News Australia workers at the Port Macquarie Highway branch – not to be confused with the Port Macquarie CBD McDonald’s – received the geo-located emergency messages at the restaurant on two separate occasions during the devastating fires. Staff eventually took it upon themselves to leave.
“I was working the day of the fires in Port Macquarie at the highway Maccas and was the first to defend my co-workers and their safety by walking out,” one staff member told Yahoo News Australia.
Authorities are now investigating.
“The workers on [November 8] received geo-located messages to seek shelter as the fire arrived but management directed staff to stay at work as their view was that the fire risk was not significant,” RFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan said.
“The KFC was shut. Workers ended up walking out of McDonald’s”.
A similar incident allegedly took place three days later on the Monday.
“On Monday [November 11] workers were getting reports their homes and families were under fire threat and wanted to leave. Workers weren’t told they could leave and eventually they walked out,” Mr Cullinan said.
On Monday this week, SafeWork NSW confirmed to Yahoo News Australia that they were investigating the alleged incident.
“SafeWork NSW is investigating reports staff of a fast food restaurant in Port Macquarie were ordered to continue working despite receiving emergency alerts advising evacuation due to nearby bushfires,” a spokesperson from the state’s Workcover Authority said.
‘Employees advised they could go home’
McDonald’s has refuted allegations that there was ever any threat to staff at the Port Macquarie Highway branch during the bushfires or that they were forced to keep working.
A spokesperson from the fast-food chain told Yahoo News Australia on Monday evening that restaurant management was in frequent contact with the RFS and local police and “there was never any instruction to evacuate the restaurant”.
“At no point was any employee told they must stay at the store. Any staff member who asked to leave was allowed to do so, with the remaining employees advised they could go home if they told their manager of their decision to leave the restaurant,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“This request was made to assist with ensuring management could – as is their duty of care - responsibly account for all employees rostered on.”
SafeWork NSW’s investigation into the alleged incident is ongoing.
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