Super-sized payout for McDonald's worker

Last updated 01:07 09/09/2008

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A teenage McDonald's worker who was forced to quit her job after she joined a union has won a super-sized payout.

Employment Relations Authority member Philip Cheyne ruled that Chantelle Coup, now 19, was constructively dismissed, and ordered the franchisee to pay her $15,000.

Coup was 17 when she worked for the fastfood giant's Kaiapoi restaurant.

The authority found the actions of McDonald's Kaiapoi were a "very serious interference of Ms Coup's freedom of choice about union membership", breaching the Employment Relations Act and its employer duties.

Coup, who now lives in Brisbane, said it had been a terrible time for her.

She said she had taken medication for depression as a result of the stress and had failed the travel and tourism course she was studying.

She said yesterday that "$15,000 is a lot of money, but it doesn't help what has happened".

"They are grown adults taking on teenagers, which is really sad."

Coup said that after joining the Unite union, she was pressured to resign from it and after refusing, had her hours cut while being bullied in other ways.

However, she did not think the franchisees, Patrick and Ann Cornish, would change their ways.

"To be honest, I don't think they will learn from it.

"When they were in court they didn't seem sorry for what they did, they just wanted to get it over and done with."

Coup said she was pleased she had stood up for her rights, despite the stress it caused.

"Just because they were in the wrong.

"I'm not some pushover who will let someone do that."

Unite national director Mike Treen said the $15,000 payout was remarkably high.

"It's at the very high end for a part-time worker who has been working for about a year."

"It's at the high end of the scale they treated it very seriously," he said.

Treen said the union was trying to get secure hours for McDonald's employees in their latest collective agreement because without that surety, their rosters could be used as a weapon.

"It's the mechanism by which managers can punish people without a fair hearing.

"They can just chop their hours and that's what happened with Chantelle and she was never given the opportunity to explain her side."

Coup joined the union in June last year.

The authority decision found that acting McDonald's Kaiapoi manager Matt Hall told Coup in July that she needed to write a letter resigning from the union.

It found that Hall told Coup that "if you're in the union, it's just proving to both me and Pat that you don't trust us".

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The next month she had her hours cut.

Coup had attributed the move to her union membership, although the franchisee said it was related to problems with her work performance.

The working relationship worsened after Coup had a drink of water knocked out of her hands by Hall, who objected to her drinking on work time, although she had got permission from another supervisor.

After a heated meeting with the franchisees and her union delegate in August, Coup resigned the next month and took a personal grievance against the restaurant.

The authority found the effect of the constructive dismissal on Coup was "very significant", and her distress was more keenly felt because of her age and vulnerability.

Coup, who moved to Brisbane two weeks ago and is still looking for work, said she would use the money to pay back the student loan she took out for her course.

Franchisee Patrick Cornish said he was considering his options and would not comment further.

McDonald's New Zealand managing director Mark Hawthorne defended Cornish, saying he was generally a good employer in his 11 years as a franchisee at different locations.

However, the head office would investigate the case.

"It's one we need to investigate further to see if it was managed correctly," he said.

"We have to read the decision and talk to the franchisee and make a decision about whether it could have been handled differently and if our procedures need to be changed."

Hawthorne said the organisation had a constructive relationship with Unite and franchisees knew their obligations in allowing staff to join unions.

 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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