McDonald’s staff claim they were ordered to keep working despite emergency bushfire texts

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.

A screenshot of an AAP video taken on November 8 at Lighthouse Beach at Port Macquarie. Source: AAP
A screenshot of an AAP video taken on November 8 at Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie. Source: AAP

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.

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.

A screenshot of the geo-located emergency warnings sent to a McDonald's Port Macquarie Highway employee. Source: Supplied
A screenshot of the geo-located emergency warnings sent to a McDonald's Port Macquarie Highway employee. Source: Supplied

“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.

NEW SOUTH WALES, Nov. 11, 2019 -- A white horse trots on the field where a farmhouse was burnt by bushfires near Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, Nov. 11, 2019.    A devastating start to the Australian bushfire season has prompted a state of emergency in the eastern state of New South Wales , with the country's largest city, Sydney bracing for "catastrophic" fire danger.     On Monday, a state of emergency was declared for NSW, with exceptionally hot and windy conditions predicted for Tuesday, threatening to create an even bigger fire disaster than that which left three people dead last week. (Photo by Bai Xuefei/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Bai Xuefei via Getty Images)
A burnt paddock in Port Macquarie on November 11 after fires ripped through the region. Source: Getty Images

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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