Coronavirus: Union receives complaints fast-food workers aren't physical distancing

A union representing fast-food workers says it's received several complaints about physical distancing in takeaway kitchens and at drive-thrus. 

Unite Union represents thousands of fast-food workers across the country and says it's received reports that physical distancing isn't happening because it just isn't possible.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions also says in many cases physical distancing isn't working, and it has spoken with WorkSafe. 

"We've encouraged them to do everything they can to really put it on firms that they better stand up and listen, or else there will be consequences," Richard Wagstaff says.

Auckland Carl's Jr employee Hazel Rockell says she asked for a face mask when she returned to work, but was told she'd need to apply through the head office in order to get one. She was given access to gloves, which she changed in between customers.

"Every time someone touched my hand or sneezed [I changed gloves]. There were a few people who did sneeze, so I had to change my gloves and wash my entire forearms," she says.

She was working at the drive-thru when the takeaway restaurant opened this week. Normally she would serve 100 customers on a busy day, but on Tuesday it was closer to 300 she says.

To keep up with demand, kitchen staff had to stand next to each other. 

"They didn't want to do it, like the looks on their faces when they were told you have to work next to someone was just like we're not supposed to be doing this," Rockell says.

Restaurant Brands, who owns Carl's Jr, says a social distancing policy has been created through their kitchens and operational areas to keep staff apart. There are also measures in place to keep staff and customers safe.

"At the drive-thru, a gloved team member provides an EFTPOS machine for card payment only.  We are not accepting cash. The machine is sanitised after each transaction, gloves are changed regularly and our staff must wash their hands every 30 minutes," a spokesperson says.

"Each store has been allocated a supply [of gloves], however sourcing enough masks has been difficult given the nationwide demand. Any store without masks is being replenished today."

Person-to-person contact at drive-thrus is an issue that Wendy's has tried to combat by placing tables outside. 

"The driver just pays as they arrive at the window, put your window up, once your window is up we put your food out, you collect it, put your window up and drive off," Wendy's New Zealand CEO Danielle Lendich says.

A simple system that she says other takeaway restaurants could use instead of passing food into customers hands.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says fast-food shops are being trusted to operate safely.

"I do expect a high standard. It is a responsibility and a level of trust we are placing on those who are operating, but we will also enforce."

Workers are encouraged to report any concerns about unsafe practices to their management.