Australia’s Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) is bringing a massive AUD$250 million legal action on behalf of 250,000 current and former McDonald’s workers who were allegedly refused mandated breaks.
This “mega Federal Court Claim” against 323 Australian McDonald’s operators–and the fast-food giant itself—is one of the biggest of its kind in Australian history. It touches over 1.8 per cent of working Australians.
The SDA, a UNI affiliate, says that McDonald’s management denied employees continuous 10-minute breaks, required after 4 hours of work. A union spokesperson said they have heard over 10,000 accounts from former and current employees about this issue.
The SDA believes that denial of paid rest breaks and exploitation was systematic and deliberate, and that McDonald’s Australia aided and abetted franchisees in this practice.
McDonald’s management told workers they did not qualify for breaks because they could use the toilet or take a sip of a drink without asking for permission. However, Isabelle, a former McDonald’s Adelaide worker, told ABC News that these mini-breaks were not as free as the company has made them out to be:
“There were a lot of managers that would get angry if you needed to go to the bathroom and have a drink break.
“They saw it as you being lazy and not actually doing what you need to do.
“I remembered thinking, what do I need more? Do I need a drink more or do I need to go to the bathroom more — and then you just pick from there.”
The union has previously lodged 10 court actions against McDonald’s operators throughout Australia, and it raised concerns over break times in the past two rounds of Enterprise Agreement negotiations.
“We fully support the SDA’s actions to hold McDonald’s and its operators accountable, and it is time that these workers receive compensation for any breaks they were cheated out of,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “Unfortunately, this is not just an issue at McDonald’s. Employers are stealing workers’ break time or not paying workers while on a break throughout the services industries, and unions and collective bargaining are the first lines of defence to making sure that workers get what they have earned.”