McDonald's is sick of being the country's whipping boy as the debate over the types of jobs available for highly qualified people ramps up again.
Forty per cent of McDonald's head office staff and a third of its most senior managers in New Zealand began as entry-level crew in its restaurants. But a career in "burger flipping" can't seem to shake its bad rap.
Recruitment expert Kate Wright, of Kinetic Recruitment, worked in human relations at McDonald's and said the company may never get rid of the negative stigma, which she said was undeserved.
Complaints from people who say they are overqualified for a career behind a fast-food counter are so common a Work and Income spokesman said the idea the department was regularly referring doctors to McDonald's for work had become an urban myth.
Conservation biologist Jo Chapman appeared on Campbell Live saying she had been asked to flip burgers. Work and Income denied that.
McDonald's managing director Patrick Wilson, who began his career behind the counter, said he was resigned to McDonald's never completely shaking its bad press. "There will always be those people who come in and look at the entry-level positions and think that's all that McDonald's is. It's very unfair."
Whangarei restaurant manager Antony Dax, named restaurant manager of the year last year, said the negative connotations upset him.
Dax has worked for McDonald's for 13 years. "I don't know why people think [that it's a bad job]. It does upset me. It couldn't be further from the truth. I try to say that to all applicants."
A third of his staff earned more than the minimum wage. Anyone committed to moving up could do so, he said. "Anyone off the street starts on the minimum wage but within three months they can move off that and be 75c up in six months. Then, in management, it goes up in leaps and bounds."
Fast-food employers report staff turnover of up to 65 per cent annually. Dax said the company wanted to cut this.
"It costs $1000 to hire and train new people. I'd rather keep my staff."
Wright said the company invested heavily in its workforce and it was an excellent training ground looked on favourably by other employers.
Unite union organiser Joe Carolan said his union represented 9000 fast-food workers around the country. Recent negotiations had led to McDonald's agreeing the increase to the minimum wage would flow through to all levels of pay.
The entry-level rate went up to $13.50, the crew rate - usually achieved in six months - went from $13.25 to $13.75, the crew trainer rate to $14.25, the shift assistant rate to $14.50, the shift supervisor rate increased from $15.61 to $16.21 and the certified shift supervisor rate went from $16.65 to $17.29.
A spokeswoman for the company said the average wage for all staff was $16 an hour, before this month's minimum wage increase was taken into account. Supervisors in restaurants covered by the union deal also receive an allowance for every hour they are in sole charge of a restaurant.
This varies from $3 an hour to Restaurant Brands' $4.36 an hour. By comparison, New World checkout operators start on the minimum wage. A checkout manager said that after a year, staff would be on $15 or $16 an hour. Resthome caregivers at Oceania are paid just 11c over the minimum wage, says the Service and Food Workers Union.