McDonald's staff 'forced to work amid bushfire threat'
As bushfires tore through the NSW Port Macquarie region, staff at a McDonald's highway restaurant were still flipping burgers, with a union claiming they were told to keep working amid dangerous conditions.
The McDonald's store, on the corner of the Pacific and Oxley highways at Thrumster, was the only fast food outlet to remain open at the Port Macquarie pit stop area on Friday afternoon, November 8.
This is despite the NSW RFS issuing an emergency warning for two out-of-control fires flanking the pit stop on either side at Thrumster and Sovereign Hill.
Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinhan told nine.com.au that McDonald's staff members were told to continue on with their shifts, even as they were receiving SMS messages alerting them to the emergency situation unfolding.
"The SMS was very clear and it described an imminent threat, but workers were told that it was not a real risk and they had to stay at work and keep working," Mr Cullinhan said.
"And obviously the staff were very upset and agitated by that."
Nine.com.au has confirmed that KFC, Subway and Oliver's Real Food restaurants all closed their doors when the bushfire threat emerged.
"We sent our team home as it was deemed not sensible or safe to continue to trade," Oliver's Real Food CEO Jason Gunn said.
Mr Cullinhan said that a group of five or six McDonald's staff members eventually chose to ignore the orders of management and walked out of the store.
Three or four managers and one staff member were left behind, he said.
However, a spokesperson for McDonald's denied staff were told they had to stay at the store.
"At no point was any employee told they must stay at the store. Any staff member who asked to leave was allowed to do so, with the remaining employees advised they could go home if they told their manager of their decision to leave the restaurant. This request was made to assist with ensuring management could – as is their duty of care - responsibly account for all employees rostered on."
"Restaurant management was in frequent contact with the Rural Fire Service and local police. There was never any instruction to evacuate the restaurant."
The mother of one McDonald's worker, who asked not to be named, told nine.com.au her teenage child was never given an opportunity to leave.
"My child was never asked if they wanted or needed to leave because as far as they were concerned the area our home is in was fine," she said.
The mother said she was shocked and angry when she got a message from her child saying they needed to keep working.
"We were worried sick. I was scared that if the fire took off, or if they closed the highway, I wouldn't be able to pick (her child) up."
The mother said that the family's home, while not under immediate threat at the time, was in the projected path of the bushfire.
"It was sort of apocalyptic here where we are, we were getting burning leaves and ash falling and it was really frightening."
"We were trying to get ready and hose everything down."
The lack of concern shown by McDonald's towards her child just added to her stress and anxiety, the mother said.
"I'm hoping that McDonald's get their act into gear. They need to look after the safety and wellbeing of their workers and not worry about their revenue.
"Some staff might not live in an at threat area but family members who need to pick their children up might be."
Mr Cullinhan said the union was calling on McDonald's to ensure the safety of its workers during the upcoming bushfire season.
"What we are demanding is that McDonald's simply assure every staff member working at a McDonald's that if there is a risk in relation to bushfires that they are allowed to leave to go home, and they are allowed to not try to attend work against the advice and directions of the fire authorities," he said.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]