KFC calls back disabled staff

By Amanda Snow

Fast-food giant bows to public outrage and offers to reinstate laid-off workers

Tanya van Lunenburg is expected to be offered her old job back at KFC in Birkenhead. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Tanya van Lunenburg is expected to be offered her old job back at KFC in Birkenhead. Photo / Kellie Blizard

Disabled workers who were axed from their jobs at KFC are being offered their positions back with the company.

Herald on Sunday revelations of store restructures that forced out staff with disabilities outraged customers in New Zealand and overseas, with many people taking to the fast-food giant's Facebook page with calls for a boycott.

The story was shared 54,000 times on Facebook and more than 200 times on Twitter.

KFC also came under pressure from the Unite Union, Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and Green MP Mojo Mathers who said cutting limited-duties roles deliberately targeted workers with disabilities.

This week, the company relented.

"We're really pleased we've been able to reach an agreement with Unite Union to reinstate these roles," said Restaurant Brands chief executive Russel Creedy.

"We understand how important these roles are for disabled staff, their families and caregivers."

Unite's Mike Treen said the company had agreed to contact each of the 17 affected workers to offer them re-employment with appropriate training. Even workers who left with confidential settlements would be "welcomed back", according to KFC general manager Brent Kitto.

Kitto said a company review was already under way.

"We won't just sweep this under the carpet. It looks like we're heartless and it's not the case at all," Kitto said. "I'm still trying to work out how it got to where it did. I'm just ecstatic we've got a really good resolution."

Meetings have been arranged with some of the axed workers. "Hopefully we will have meaningful jobs for these guys and welcome them back into the team at KFC," said Kitto.

Mojo Mathers said she was delighted. "KFC has listened to public opinion," she said. "I hope that KFC rethinking their position will inspire other employers to look at the ways they can make their workplaces and employment policies inclusive of workers with disabilities."

Jacinda Ardern is pleased the company has done the "right thing". "It shows the power of people sharing their views and making them known. Organisations like this can't afford to ignore them anymore."

Overjoyed to be back on the job

Tanya van Lunenburg has had a great week, and things ought to get even better.

The 48-year-old, who has an intellectual disability, is among the disabled KFC workers with "limited duties" roles who were laid off by the company.

They are now being approached with offers of re-employment.

Tanya lost her position packing the potato and gravy at the KFC in Auckland's Birkenhead last year after 18 years on the job.

Her father Bob, 83, said he was overjoyed when KFC contacted him this week with a request to meet on Monday: "It was altogether too much to believe."

But he hasn't had the heart to tell his daughter in fear of getting her hopes up. "I'm cautiously optimistic and that's hard to explain to Tanya," he said.

"I didn't dare tell her because she will be totally overcome to get back on the bus to work and join her old workmates," he said.

On Friday, Tania revisted her old workplace. "She had a chat to her old manager and got hugs from her former colleagues."

- Herald on Sunday

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