You don’t need to keep up with the news to know that a vast number of major retail and fast food franchises are bending or outright breaking the rules when it comes to the treatment and payment of their employees. An endless string of abuses across Australia pop up in the media all the time, and while calling these businesses out for it pressures them to make reparations, there is a solution that would ensure these types of abuses do not happen and keep them acting fairly – unions.
The most recent incident involves Macca’s (the Australian abbreviation of McDonalds, for any international readers) coming under fire for refusing the use of toilets or drinking of water on shift, except within the short paid 10 minute break, which was only given for shifts 4 hours or longer. As someone who worked in the hospitality industry, I can say that whenever I, or my colleagues, wanted water, or whenever we needed to drop to the bathroom, so long as we didn’t waste exorbitant amounts of time doing so, we just went. As long as someone in our section knew where we were, no one cared – not even management. The idea of asking permission – and worse, being denied it – for such basic amenities is absurd and wrong.
A friend of mine who works at a nearby Macca’s told me that his managers have previously told him and other staff that they could not go to the bathroom or get water, and, more alarmingly, opted to inform them they were not actually entitled to the 10 minute break. According to him, there is talk of improving the paid break to 15 minutes and ensuring that they are taken if wanted, in response to the public backlash. Too little too late, the Unions have slammed them for their dodgy conduct and are demanding more. The Retail and Fast Food Worker’s Union (RAFFWU) and Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) have engaged Macca’s over the reintroduction of penalty rates (which they previously failed to pay employees anyway, and which the Coalition government has deemed unnecessary). This also included backpay and compensation for the rates and lack of breaks.
While I have doubts over the success of the backpay and compensation side of things, these types of demands should be made of all retail and fast food chains. Corporate monopoly and control over society has caused immeasurable damage to workers and their rights. While someone like me or my friend from Macca’s, who aren’t in the workforce for full time work just yet (due to study or other reasons), are not as affected by it, penalty rates and other benefits are a necessary part of some family’s budgets. As seen in the US, where the fight to make the minimum wage $15 is waging on, not having a liveable wage causes severe issues for workers. And as for the use of the bathroom and drinking water on shift, in no reasonable workplace should that not be considered an unspoken right – especially access to water in the current summer heat. My friend had this to say: “You telling me on a 40 degree day in an already hot kitchen you’re not gonna let your employees stay hydrated. It baffles me how minimum wage workers get treated.”
I can only agree, and recommend to anyone – no matter what profession you are a part of – to join your relevant Union and fight for your rights as workers and people.
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