Disabled staff at KFC forced out of job

2 Sep

Herald on Sunday, September 1, 2013

By Amanda Snow

A group of long-serving KFC workers are being forced out of their jobs during a restructure which a union claims is deliberately targeting workers with disabilities.

The Unite Union says disabled workers have been let go in the past year because of a KFC policy for all staff to be capable of all duties.

At least two more workers will discover their fate this week.

Mike Treen, Unite’s national director of organising, said the first case appeared when two Hutt Valley stores merged last September – resulting in two disabled workers being made redundant.

Treen believes stores in the Hutt, Greymouth, Motueka, Oamaru, Papanui in Christchurch, and Alexandra in central Otago have been similarly reorganised.

Restaurant Brands general manager of people and performance Jennifer Blight refused to answer questions about the policy, apparently called “all star level” staffing. “These (questions) pertain to employment-related issues between Restaurant Brands and employees, and as such are matters that we do not discuss publicly.”

Jared Dixon, who has autism, was restructured out of his job at KFC in Greymouth.

He’d worked there for 16 years doing three hours a week – making the local newspaper in 2006 when the company presented him with a long-service award for 10 years on the job.

Jared’s family believes he was never given a chance to show he could do the tasks.

“We were very upset for Jared losing a role he loved and, from all feedback, did very well,” said a family spokesman. “Being autistic, Jared is extremely habitual so the sudden change to his weekly routine after 16 years of working for KFC was devastating.”

Staff put in their own money to buy Jared a farewell gift and dinner. “It was really sad. He was sitting out in the restaurant trying to eat his meal and he burst into tears.”

Treen says he intends to get advice from the Human Rights Commission. “The policy has to be stopped. If a major company can get away with it then workers with disabilities will have no chance.”

Fast food worker’s despair

Douglas McRae loved his years at Park Ave KFC in Wellington.

The 49-year-old, who has an intellectual disability, worked two hours a day packing the potato and gravy and cleaning.

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“I put the potato into punnets and tipped the gravy on top of them. It was a good job,” he said. “I enjoyed having a job.”

Douglas was excited when told the Park Ave store would merge with another at a new site in Lower Hutt. But his hopes of a transfer were soon dashed.

“I got a letter to say I wouldn’t be going to the new KFC, and I wasn’t very happy with it.”

Douglas believes the only other person affected was another worker with a disability from the other merging store.

“He wasn’t very happy too. That was not fair at all,” he said. “I loved my job, I was supporting my wife and I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I miss all my friends.”

Caregivers Steve and Debbie Edwards said Douglas was always on time, never missed a day and was always willing to put in the extra hours.

“The work makes them feel worthy,” Steve said, “and all of a sudden they’re unworthy.”

Debbie said Douglas was given only three days’ notice, after earlier being told he would be moving to the new building.

“There was no empathy,” she said. “It was really sad.”

– Herald on Sunday

Labour hits out at ‘unjust’ KFC policy

The Labour Party is calling on the Human Rights Commission to investigate concerns that workers with disabilities are losing their jobs at KFC because of its restructuring policy.

The Unite Union said disabled workers had been let go in the past year because of a KFC policy for all staff to be capable of all duties.

Labour’s social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the Human Rights Commission should investigate the concerns about the fast food chain.

“This catch-all policy is unfair and unjust. Social responsibility is a guiding principle for smart business globally. Restaurants in small towns rely on the engagement of their local communities. This one-size-fits-all approach won’t go down well with workers in Greymouth or Oamaru,” she said.

“I have first hand experience working with young people with disabilities. In fact, I trained two people at KFC in these very roles. Each of them had enormous dedication to their job and the team. The idea that a policy like this would now put them out of the job is devastating.”

Jacinda Ardern at the 2012 Labour Party conference.

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