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Flame burns brightly under the golden arches

Saturday, 31st July, 2021

By Neil Pigot

The banners at the Broken Hill McDonald’s proudly announce that the Mac Family has arrived. But it would appear that McDonald’s Broken Hill, along with a number of other stores in South Australia, have been anything but good parents.
Australia’s largest private-sector trade union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association or SDA, has brought a case to the Federal Court against McDonald’s Broken Hill over the denial of break entitlements.
The action, lodged on behalf of 18 current and former workers of the Broken Hill outlet, follows an investigation conducted by South Australian representatives of the union who travelled to Broken Hill in early June and interviewed past and present staff members of the store.
As a result of that investigation, the union will allege that local operator, Moosky Pty Ltd, deliberately denied workers paid rest and drink breaks. But according to SDA South Australian State Secretary, Josh Peak, the investigation, and the resulting action, didn’t come easily.
“What we came across was a franchisee that was not only actively denying workers their breaks but was also actively impeding those workers the right to union representation,” said Mr Peak.
That impediment, which is certainly not in keeping with the best traditions of a city often cited as the spiritual home of Australian unionism, was multi-layered. The union officials were initially denied right of entry to the store. After securing a notice of a right to entry they were then confronted by a franchisee whose actions can best be described as openly intimidatory.
Actions that included sitting next to workers as they were being interviewed by the union officials with respect to their conditions, a tactic that Peak said understandably frightened the young staff members.
“We were forced to threaten separate legal action in the Federal Court to allow us to have an open conversation with staff without the franchisee present which is a pretty deplorable state of affairs.”
What became clear to the SDA after the local franchisee was given no choice but to back away was that the Broken Hill store has a history of taking advantage of young fast-food workers.
“Once we were able to talk openly with these young people what we found was a systemic lack of acknowledgement on the part of the franchisee with respect to the basic rights of his staff. McDonald’s stores are incredibly busy and hot places to work, to think that workers in Broken Hill, of all places, have been denied the right to a rest break is disgraceful,” Mr Peak said.
Peak said the union has now lodged actions against five McDonald’s franchisees regarding the denial of breaks and is seeking thousands of dollars in compensation on behalf of 372 workers across 17 restaurants, action that will ensure thousands of current workers receive their basic entitlements.
The SDA’s action, which is ongoing across all states, had so far collected formal statements from thousands of past and present McDonald’s crew members who have reached out to discuss their concerns about their time working at McDonald’s. But Peak says the action in Broken Hill is of particular significance.
“It’s very unusual. What we have in Broken Hill is virtually all teenagers. Young people exercising their rights in the face of open intimidation. It’s brave. To have these teenagers in a fast-food franchise standing together. That’s remarkable.”
The flame, lit in the city more than a century ago, a flame that had perhaps become a mere flicker, is once again, it seems, burning brightly.

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