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burger_facemask.pngUnite union has sent a list of unresolved health and safety issues to Fast Food employers ahead of fast food drive-throughs being reopened next week and are warning customers to expect delays in service.

 Unite members had a brief experience with Level 3 just before the lockdown and there were many concerns that have not yet been dealt with.

“It's not an exaggeration to say that many fast food workers are genuinely in fear for their health and safety next week.”


Drive-through cannot be the same

"The major concern is the high number of interactions with the public and whether the necessary changes can be made to drive-through services to make them contact-less. There is no way that the standard drive through service meets level 3 requirements. The two metre rule has to apply to customers and there is simply no way food, change and receipts can be handed directly to customers in cars and the two metre distance be maintained.  The basic processes have to change and physical barriers must be in place at all times.” 

Cash is high risk

Cash transactions are also a major problem. Just using gloves and changing them every so often is not going to protect employees and customers from cross infection. 

“Its important to remember that ready to eat meals are being provided in cars at the same time with cash change that is likely to have come from customers a few cars earlier - thats a recipe for spreading the virus directly onto people’s mouths.”

As fast food is not an essential service, we do not believe that the potential risk of accepting cash meets the employers health and safety obligations to eliminate or minimise risks as far as reasonably practicable.


Not so Fast

Fast food is not going to be so fast under level 3. Hygiene processes and limits on physical interaction, coupled with expected heavy demand will inevitably mean long  queues. It is vital that workers are able to take the time to ensure all health and safety measures are undertaken. Where we have seen health and safety breaches in the past, it has primarily stemmed from workers put under pressure to maintain fast service levels – essentially compromising safety for profit. Despite the desire for fast food, we are sure customers will not want safety compromised in order to receive it – especially when that puts everyone at risk.

“We know that long queues mean an upsurge in customer aggression towards workers - as we have seen at supermarkets under Level 4. Managers and fast food companies need to take a zero tolerance approach. Any aggression has to result in no service, the customer being trespassed and the police being called immediately if needed. Workers must be backed up by their employers on this - which often hasn’t been the case in fast  foods.” 


Vulnerable workers and their families must be protected

Employees or employee bubbles with health vulnerabilities must be protected. The one metre rule for workplaces is a compromise allowed by the rules only because employees can be easily contact traced, but there is a clear and acknowledged higher risk of infection. 

For workers whose health status makes them vulnerable if they do contract Covid19 this higher risk is not acceptable. The need for this was clear for essential businesses under Level 4 and it needs to be applied under Level 3, especially with the one metre reduction in distancing. The government has to take the lead on clear rules around ensuring pay for these workers.


Childcare and Sick leave

Many workers normal childcare arrangements are still inaccessible under Level 3 - remembering that most fast food work is undertaken at nights and weekends when schools and commercial childcare centres are closed anyway. Many relatives who may have helped out previously will be vulnerable persons needing to keep isolated at Level 3. The high turnover and the lack of any paid sick leave before six months service means many workers will be under severe financial pressure to turn up for work even if they are sick. This is a risk to everyone. The government needs to extend sick leave to ensure that workers can stay away from work and still pay rent and bills. This reduces the risk for everyone and is sensible public policy.


“We have been told that the fast food companies had direct input into the Level 3 decision to allow drive-throughs to re-open. It is disappointing that workers and their representatives were not consulted at the time. That needs to be corrected now to avoid workers having to stop work under the health and Safety at Work Act to protect themselves and their customers. Unite challenges all major fast food companies to agree to a level 3 H&S accord in consultation with their workers (as required by law, s 58 HSWA).”

The full paper can be viewed here

Submitted by

Gerard Hehir

Written 22/4/2020