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A McDonald’s franchisee must pay $82,000 for refusing to let employees take short toilet or drink breaks, the Federal Court has ruled.
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) took on the franchisee, Tantex Holdings, one year ago, after they heard McDonald’s employee, Chiara Staines, was refused any toilet or drink breaks outside her normal 10-minute paid rest breaks.
Tantex Holdings, which operates six of the fast-food restaurants, told its employees via a Facebook post that the 10 minute breaks were the “only time” they were permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet.
“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?” franchise operator, Chris Tantex told employees.
In his judgment, Justice John Logan said there was an element of novelty to the case, in that the subject of whether a worker had a reasonable right to leave the work floor for the purpose of going to the toilet or having a drink of water was never contested.
Justice Logan ruled the Facebook post amounted to a “sinister” threat that “hit its target”.
“There is a quality of cruelty to workers about it,” he said.
“The evidence led by the Union at the penalty hearing proves that. The Union submitted, ‘The conduct struck at the heart of the system of industrial relations – being the creation of legally enforceable and mutually beneficial rights and entitlements through the system of enterprise bargaining’.
“This is true. Yet another submission made by the Union, also true, was that the contravention was a manifestation and exploitation of a ‘gross power imbalance’.”
While the RAFFWU said they were “delighted” with the outcome of the case, they said thousands of workers were still owed money.
“The only worker it has compensated is our member and co-applicant, Chiara Staines. Thousands of other workers have not been compensated at all,” the Union said in a statement.
“The outrageous coercion of children by this employer – which continues to employ hundreds of children and young workers – was absolutely unlawful and it must now pay the penalties imposed on it.”
Union initiates class action against McDonald’s
The RAFFWU has joined forces with Shine Lawyers to initiate a class action against the franchisee, claiming that around 250,000 workers have been rorted by the McDonald’s policy.
“Chiara, rightfully, will be paid over $11,800 in penalties and compensation for what this employer did. Our focus is now upon the 250,000 other workers stripped of their breaks by McDonald’s outlets.
“Other employers who exploit retail and fast food workers are on notice.”
If you worked at McDonald’s from September 2014, you may be eligible to join 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.”
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