Employees and the fast-food sector union claim KFC exploited young workers by denying them paid rest breaks.

A former KFC employee claims she “took up smoking just to get a break” in a class action launched against the fast food giant in the Federal Court over unpaid rest breaks.

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with Shine Lawyers and the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) alleges that KFC failed to give employees working shifts over four hours the paid 10 minute breaks they are entitled to.

The class action was foreshadowed by news.com.au in October.

Shine Lawyers joint head of class actions, Vicky Antzoulatos, said: “Workers are suing for the value of lost breaks and for the loss of amenity and the stress placed on workers as a result of working in these pressure-cooker environments and not having proper breaks.”

“One client who worked 3-5 shifts per week at two KFC franchises in Victoria from June 2016 to November 2021, claims she took up smoking just to get a break.”

KFC employee Lily O’Sullivan, who worked at an Illawarra region outlet in NSW from 2019-2020 is among those who said her request for a break was rejected.

“I remember raising my right to a 10-minute break, ‘No, we don’t do those here’, as if it was optional,” she said.

“It was shut down so swiftly that after chatting to colleagues, I quickly realised it wasn’t something I could ask for again.”

Under a 2020 enterprise agreement, KFC workers are entitled to a paid 10-minute break after four hours of work and a second paid break after eight hours.

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan alleged that the denial of breaks was widespread across the business.

“Up until a couple of years ago, every single KFC worker in every single franchise we spoke to was not getting these 10 minute paid breaks,” he told news.com.au.

“In these workplaces we’re talking about kids, the vast majority of whom are under 18 or 21.

“These kids are not only working in their first job but also in a hot, fast paced environment. They have the right to take a break.”

He added that the issue came down to money, with highly profitable fast food chains like KFC attracted to younger workers, as they can be paid less than adults, but not willing to cover them with another employees when they are entitled to a break.

A 21-year-old KFC worker earns $24.85 an hour on a full adult rate, while a 16-year-old earns $12.43 – or 50 per cent of that.

Of the 37,000 workers covered under the KFC enterprise bargaining agreement, 34,000 are under the age of 21.

In a response provided to Today, a KFC spokesperson said: “KFC Australia takes all obligations under the Fair Work Act and KFC National Enterprise Agreement very seriously, including the obligation to allow employees to take the paid rest breaks they are entitled to.”

“We will be responding to the claim made in the Federal Court in due course.”

Shine said current or former KFC employees who worked at an Australian KFC between 4 December 2017 and 4 December 2023 and did not receive at least one 10-minute paid break that they were entitled to can join the class action.

Shine Lawyers is also running a class-action suit against McDonald’s in the Federal Court alleging worker exploitation.

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