How NZ McDonald's franchises compare with the Aussies

McDonald's employees in New Zealand would face similar problems to their Australian colleagues if it weren't for the fight they've put up over the last decade, a leading union rep says.

The owner of six Queensland outlets warned employees if they kept fighting for the breaks they're entitled to, they'd be barred from having a drink or using the toilet at any other time.

"I hope to god you don't get thirsty on your next shift because we just wouldn't be able to allow a drink," a man named Chris from franchisee Tantex Holdings wrote on a private Facebook page.

The message was quickly made public, sparking outrage from the the Fast Food Workers' Union, which secured the right to breaks for the employees.

threat mcdonalds
One manager posted a threatening warning to a private Facebook page. Photo credit: Supplied

"If treating your workers like dirt is their business model, they don't deserve to employ anyone," the union said in a statement.

Here in New Zealand, many fast food workers are members of the Unite Union. National secretary Gerard Hehir told RadioLIVE on Friday the struggles faced by Aussie fast food workers reminds him of where their Kiwi counterparts were at a decade ago.

"The situation in New Zealand with McDonald's is similar in structure, in that most restaurants are owned by franchisees... and it's variable. Some of the franchisees over the years have been very good, but [some] unfortunately have displayed attitudes similar to that over the years.

"It's been a long, hard battle for us to overcome those attitudes. Breaks, I've got to say, have been one of the top three issues we've fought for over the last decade in the fast food industry, to make sure people get their breaks. It's a big issue."

Unite's early battles were fought under the National-led Government, which took away workers' rights to rest and meal breaks during their shifts.

"You might turn up for an eight-hour shift... and you'll be sent on your half-hour meal break straight away, within half-an-hour," explained Mr Hehir. "Then you'll get no meal breaks for seven hours after that. That was to get the breaks out of the way so people could work right through the busy meal period."

The recent Employment Relations Amendment Bill put them back in, and also said they should happen at appropriate times - not if, and when, the boss feels like it. Unite says it always negotiates proper breaks for its members.

"We've had to fight hard to make sure that breaks are evenly spread out, when you need it - not when you've just turned up for work."

Mr Hehir says while McDonald's bosses in New Zealand are better now than they were, if it weren't for the fight Unite has put up, many franchisees would "stick to the absolute letter of the law".

"You give an inch and they take a mile, and suddenly people are just not getting breaks, day after day after day."

McDonald's NZ declined to comment.