The following letter was written by Unite National Director Mike Treen to the Human Rights Commission to seek their assistance in dealing with what the union considers illegal discrimination against workers with disabilities.
TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
KFC has over the years hired some people with disabilities to do a limited range of duties and the hiring has been done through a range of local managers and support groups.
Sometime in late 2012 it seems the company made a decision that it no longer wanted to employ these people, on the grounds that they are not versatile enough to be employed – and because the arrangements had been made on an ad hoc basis by local managers.
Unite Union first became aware of it when a restructure process affecting two stores in the Hutt Valley that were being merged in September 2012 resulted in the workers with disabilities being the only staff made redundant. They were not told that this was a criteria when the process began. We only realised what had happened after the fact.
When union members have been affected we have tried to represent them and get some compensation. These processes are usually confidential so we can’t talk about the individual cases.
But we were so concerned at what appeared to be an unlawful systematic process of removing all staff with disabilities that we wrote to the company in February this year with an urgent request that they stop the so-called restructures.
We argued that they appeared to be completely illegal.
I said that the argument being used by the company to justify these dismissals weren’t valid. The company was claiming that it had adopted a policy that “all” workers had to be able to do Front of House and Back of House duties to what is called All Star level. But this is simply not true. A large number of workers at KFC are not “All Star” qualified. Many workers specialise in preferred roles. And anyway they can’t introduce a new policy like this without without proper consultation – including with the union.
I also argued that even if the company adopted such a policy it would be unlawful as the only victims would be a group of workers with disabilities. Restaurant Brands is bound by the decisions of its agents to employ people with disabilities in the knowledge that they would not be able to do all the duties available in a KFC store. Some of these workers were initially employed with subsidies from WINZ and promises to move them on to permanent jobs.
Creating a policy that has the intended effect of removing people with disabilities from stores appears to be discriminatory and a breach of the human rights act.
It is also a clear breach of the disability policy of the company which says the company is “committed to achieving equality for people with a disability within our work team by creating an accessible and inclusive workplace which is free from discrimination and harassment.”
After our letter in February we didn’t hear of the issue coming up again so thought that maybe the company had had a rethink. But it appears the company has continued and one of our members is now being restructured from their job in Te Awamutu along with another worker who isn’t a member. They haven’t changed their approach one bit. The “restructure” of the store is on exactly the same discriminatory demand that the workers with disabilities must be able to do every job in the store.
We know of at least a dozen cases where this has happened in the Hutt, Greymouth, Birkenhead, Motueka, Oamaru, Papanui in Christchurch, the Alexandra store in central Otago and now Te Awamutu.
I am not sure what is the best course of action and would like the advice of the Human Rights Commission. Our current role of trying to represent workers through what seems a pre-determined process and possibly getting compensation for individual members is not a solution. It does not address the root problem which is a company-wide policy. The company has refused our requests for information on when the policy started and how many workers have been affected.
I believe the policy has to be stopped. If a major company can get away with it then workers with disabilities will have no chance to play a productive and valued role in the community.
From our own experience the dismissals are even usually opposed by local management and crew at KFC.
Companies like Restaurant Brands have to learn that they operate as part of the communities from which they make their money.