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Young McDonald's workers ‘terrified’ to ask for toilet breaks

Brisbane Times logo Brisbane Times 5 days ago Lydia Lynch
a person standing in front of a television: Noah Nicholson and Michelle Beavis protest for better working conditions at McDonald's in Brisbane © Jocelyn Garcia Noah Nicholson and Michelle Beavis protest for better working conditions at McDonald's in Brisbane

Claims of McDonald's staff "terrified" to raise their concerns and managers stripping workers of shifts for taking toilet breaks emerged as a small group of protesters rallied in Brisbane on Friday afternoon.

The rally, organised by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, came after hundreds of McDonald’s employees were warned that a push to enforce their right to have 10-minute breaks on shifts four hours and longer would mean they would not be allowed to have a drink or use the bathroom at any other times.

In response to demands from some staff, the manager for a franchisee running multiple McDonald’s stores in Queensland this week warned workers on a private page on social media that the requested changes would have grave consequences if enacted.

The manager for the franchisee, Tantex Holdings, wrote that if the company implemented the requested changes, “on your shift, this 10-minute break would be the only time you would ever be 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,” he said. “Fair is fair right?”

Former McDonald’s trainee manager Noah Nicholson, 21 left the fast food chain three years ago, saying he was fed up with intimidation of young workers.

“I was there for three years and I saw it all,” Mr Nicholson said as about two dozen protesters rallied on Friday afternoon.

“Their scare tactics are coming to light now, but nobody really knows how bad it had gotten."

a group of people walking down a street: About 25 people attended the rally in Brisbane on Friday afternoon. © Jocelyn Garcia About 25 people attended the rally in Brisbane on Friday afternoon.

He said most young staff were ‘terrified’ to raise any concerns in case they were fired.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Mr Nicholson said.

“There were a lot of times I would see managers not give people shifts if they had to take toilet breaks."

Union secretary Josh Cullinan said the Brisbane franchisee was exploiting young workers who may not be confident enough to stand up for their rights.

"It is a very young workforce, more than 50 per cent of the McDonald's workforce across Australia is under the age of 18 and more than 90 per cent are younger than 25," Mr Cullinan said.

"They are being denied their rights and when they dare ask for their 10-minute break, which is their right, they are threatened with not being able to drink water. "

McDonald’s outlets across Australia have been facing union pressure to provide workers with paid 10-minute breaks in line with a condition in their workplace agreements, after the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union said it had discovered that few, if any, company-run and franchise restaurants were complying with the obligation.

Shine Lawyers employment law expert Will Barsby said this was a health and safety issue.

"There is a difference between a lawful rest break in the course of your working day and the urgent trip to the toilet if you need it or the sip of water to keep you hydrated," Mr Barsby said

"The risk is that someone doesn't have enough to drink, becomes dehydrated, maybe faints and hits their head. It is creating a high-risk environment for injury claims.

"Common sense should prevail. A paid break is different to an urgent bathroom trip or a sip of water. It shouldn't be a one or the other arrangement," he said.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said every restaurant worker was given breaks "as required", and that staff with concerns about employment conditions could call a dedicated hotline.

"We work closely with our restaurants to ensure all our employees receive the correct entitlements and pay," she said.

The franchisee, Tanya Manteit-Mulcahy, and her husband Terry Mulcahy own six McDonald's stores: Brisbane’s Central Station, Myer Centre, McWhirters Building, Wintergarden, Windsor West, and the Queen Street Mall, which is reportedly the largest McDonald's in the southern hemisphere.

- with Nick Toscano and Patrick Hatch.

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