Work for the mentally disabled used to be provided in so called sheltered work- shops. These days, it depends on employers with a sense of social responsibility. They can give disabled people the dignity of a real job and semblance of personal independence.

One of those employers has been the fast-food chain, KFC New Zealand. Its staff included disabled people who could do basic tasks such as filling its side-order packs and cleaning. Last year it had a change of heart.

Its owner, Restaurant Brands, decided to review its costs and find ways to maximise the chain's profitability. One way was to require all staff to be capable of doing any job in the store, from the counter to the kitchen. Soon, the disabled were getting notice.

Today, it is a pleasure to report jobs for all abilities are being restored. Restaurant Brands has announced an agreement with the Unite Union to re-instate "limited duties roles". Chief executive Russel Cready says, "We understand how important these roles are for disabled staff, their families and caregivers."


What the company really understands is how much damage last year's decision was doing to its business.

The Herald on Sunday revealed the systematic lay-offs of disabled workers at KFC. The anguish of these people and their families was heart-rending. One of them was a 48-year-old woman who had been packing potato and gravy at a KFC outlet for nearly 18 years. She loved putting on her uniform and going proudly to work, her sister said.

Then she was handed a notice that indicated her job had been abolished because she could not take a turn at the front counter.

Cases such as that caused KFC customers to express their disgust on the company's Facebook page, some resolving never to set foot in a KFC outlet again and calling on others to boycott the brand.

Wisely, the company had second thoughts this week, agreeing to re-employ the 17 affected people in limited duties roles and provide training in health and safety practices so that they can work unsupervised.

For those unable to work unsupervised, it will consider having a caregiver on site.

If KFC proves to be as good as its word, it will deserve praise as loud as the protest it has received. We the public do not give socially responsible employers enough recognition when they deserve it.

Employment is a heavy responsibility and a major cost of any business. Those that make room for disabled people, even at minimum wages, may sometimes be compromising their efficiency and profitability to a degree. They do not advertise their gesture and do not expect customers to reward them for it. But we should.


Next time we encounter someone with a disability working in the likes of a supermarket or a service station, we should make a note to ourselves to visit more often.

The pride these people take in their jobs and the care they bring to them is as great, or indeed greater, than many other workers who may be more complacent about their employment.

The closing of institutions and the inclusion of disabled people in everyday life and jobs has been one of the great social advances of recent times. Employers who take the trouble to make a little room for them are acting with quiet humanity. KFC was one of them and if it acts as it now says, it will deserve that credit again.