KFC and disabled workers

The editorial:

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, 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.

I had no problem with KFC deciding that for future staff, they would have a policy that all staff be capable of doing any job in the store. There can be very sound reasons for such a policy.

But when they erred badly was applying the policy retrospectively to existing staff, and making redundant some long-term staff members (including disabled ones). It was insensitive at best and callous at worst.

The Herald on Sundayrevealed 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.

Loyalty is a two way ship, and if a staff member has been a diligent worker for 18 years, it is almost beyond belief that you would dismiss them just because they don’t quite fit in to your new ideal structure. A bit of flexibility is sensible. What the hell does it matter if in say a dozen of your stores you have one employee who can’t work as a server – but can work as a packer.

As I said above, no issues with KFC deciding for future staff appointments that they want people who can work in all positions. There can be very sound business reasons for doing so. But one could transition into such an arrangement by grandfathering in current staff.

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