Union claims Burger King locked fire exits

Burger King has been accused of putting its workers' lives at risk by padlocking fire exits at its restaurants in Hawke's Bay.

Dave Burgess, a worker at the fast-food chain's Napier store, said the gate had been padlocked for at least five years and was especially dangerous for pregnant staff and larger women who would be unable to scale a high fence that would be the only alternative escape route if fire blocked the front of the restaurant.

''If there's a fire, we're screwed,'' he said.

Unite Union said it had already intervened twice to get padlocks removed from a fire escape exit at Burger King's Hastings store.

In one instance, management told workers to jump over a two-metre gate if a fire broke out, union national director Mike Treen said.

In February, a Hastings Burger King worker contacted the union complaining the manager had padlocked the fire exit gate.

''This gate is part of a two-metre fence and has a fire exit sign on it,'' Treen said. ''It is the only exit from the store through the back.

''If there was a fire in the kitchen blocking the way to the front of the store, there would be no way out.''

After Treen rang the company's Auckland head office, the padlock was removed. The company said the issue was a misunderstanding.

Earlier this month, the same worker called the union, this time complaining about the padlocked fire exit.

An email was sent to head office stating that a fence that had to be climbed was not a fire escape and that employees had the right to withdraw from work if health and safety was compromised.

Burger King replied saying the issue had been addressed.

Yesterday the union lodged complaints with the labour division of the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry (MoBIE) and the fire service.

Burger King marketing director Rachael Allison said the company was concerned by the Napier allegations and was investigating.

''Burger King is a responsible employer that cares about its people and culture.

''If the union has genuine concerns about protecting worker rights, we would like to have the opportunity to deal with those issues constructively, by the union sitting down and discussing those with us.''

The Dominion Post