McDonald's hits back against 'incorrect' Unite Union claims alleging level 3 safety breaches

The reopening of McDonald's comes as the country shifts to alert level 3.
The reopening of McDonald's comes as the country shifts to alert level 3. Photo credit: Getty

McDonald's has hit back against claims by Unite Union that the fast food chain is breaching health requirements for its workers under alert level 3.

Unite Union's national director Mike Treen says a draft plan of McDonald's alert level 3 safety protocol appeared to show the food giant was likely to breach its COVID-19 health and safety obligations. 

Based on training material given to employees and seen by the union, workers would be required to handle cash and pass products to customers in the drive-through at a distance of less than two metres, Treen said.

"This does not meet the requirements to maintain physical distancing and have contactless interactions.

"We believe this will put the health and safety of our members at risk and potentially create a danger point for customers who will be receiving food from staff who have not been physically distancing from other customers and who have been handling cash and food at the same time."

But McDonald's says the allegations are "incorrect" and the safety of staff and customers is a "number-one priority" for the company.

"We have sought advice through official Government channels and had third party auditors review our plans," said Simon Kenny, head of communications for McDonald's New Zealand.

"Last week we invited Unite Union to observe in person the enhancements we have made, but have not had a response. Some of the claims Unite Union has made, such as handling cash at the same window that food is given out, are incorrect."

Kenny said there would be protective screens in drive-through windows and that staff have received training on new customer-facing and operational procedures.

"As with everyone, we are working in a live situation and will continue to seek out expert advice to ensure we have interpreted alert level 3 guidance correctly."

The reopening of McDonald's comes as the country shifts to alert level 3 at 11:59pm on Monday.

The change in level means not only businesses that are deemed essential can open, but also any businesses that are considered "safe".

Although restaurants, bars and cafes can't physically accept customers they are allowed to open for takeaways or pick up, as long as social distancing is observed.

Retail stores will also be allowed to reopen, though will only be able to sell online.

The country's alert level will be assessed in two weeks' time.