McDonald’s has been hit with a mammoth wage theft case over allegations more than 250,000 current and former workers were denied rest breaks.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) announced Friday it had lodged a “mega” federal court claim against 328 McDonald’s operators and the fast food giant itself over the alleged denial of paid rest breaks at nearly 1000 current and former restaurants.
The union, which has some 15 existing federal court claims against McDonald’s and its franchisees, said it was seeking $250 million in compensation plus penalties in one of the biggest wage theft claims of its kind in the country’s history, capturing more than 1.8 per cent of working Australians.
Under the Fast Food Award, all McDonald’s workers are entitled to an uninterrupted 10-minute break when working four hours or more. The SDA alleges that not only were employees not informed of their rest break entitlements, but they were also told breaks could be exchanged for a free soft drink or going to the toilet.
The union alleges that the conduct was systematic and deliberate and that McDonald’s Australia aided and abetted franchisees in the practice.
“The SDA has sought to fix this issue with McDonald’s and they’ve refused to resolve it, let alone admit any wrongdoing,” SDA secretary Gerard Dwyer said in a statement.
“As one of the largest employers of young people in Australia, McDonald’s shouldn’t have to be dragged through the Federal Court for workers to receive their most basic entitlements.
“Across their restaurants, McDonald’s demands consistency. They make sure each restaurant can put two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. It’s simply not believable that these breaks weren’t denied on purpose.
“Just because McDonald’s is a multinational, multi-billion-dollar fast food behemoth doesn’t mean they can pick and choose which laws to follow. McDonald’s has the capacity and a responsibility to ensure they’re giving workers all of their entitlements.
“These federal court claims are not just about compensation and penalising McDonald’s, it’s about sending a clear message that this systematic exploitation of young workers will not be tolerated. We won’t stop calling out these exploitative behaviours until McDonald’s cleans up their act and compensates workers.”
The SDA is seeking thousands of dollars in compensation for workers who did not receive their legal break entitlements and is asking the court to penalise 400 employers who have operated McDonald’s sites in the past six years.
The union says the $250 million figure is a “conservative estimate”.
McDonald’s has more than 970 restaurants in Australia and employs more than 100,000 people.
The SDA’s existing federal court actions are against McDonald’s Australia and 14 franchisees, spanning 196 sites.
According to the union, more than 10,000 workers have assisted in its investigations into McDonald’s work conditions.
In a statement, a McDonald’s Australia spokeswoman the company “intends to fully defend the claim”.
“McDonald’s believes its restaurants complied with applicable instruments, provided rest breaks to employees and were consistent with historic working arrangements,” she said.
“Those arrangements have been known to the SDA for many years. The manner of taking breaks has not been challenged or raised by the SDA as a matter of concern throughout successive enterprise bargaining processes for new industrial agreements.
“We are very mindful of our obligations under applicable employment laws, including the former enterprise agreement and the Fast Food Industry Award, and continue to work closely with our restaurants to ensure employees receive all correct workplace entitlements and pay.
“We value our employees highly and the great contribution they make to the success of the business.”