Chemical Reaction

I just quit my MVWJ. Admittedly, fast food workers have a stigma of being underpaid and overworked, but this job pushed its staff to their limits.

I used to work for a not-so-popular fast food chain in Australia. In the year that I was there, I would regularly work 9 or 10 hr shifts with no break, seeing as they “couldn’t afford” to give me one. The managers were constantly trying to save on labour, leaving only the barest minimum of staff. Unless it was a Saturday, I often found myself the only person running front counter and drive thru so that meant taking orders, cashing it, bagging the food, making the drinks and serving it — all by myself. Even if there were 10 customers all waiting to be served. And every single order, no matter how big the order was or how long the food took to cook, had to be done under a minute and 30 seconds. If it wasn’t I was screamed at for not being fast enough and called names like “f-ing moron” in front of customers, even if they were kids. We had customers complain to the managers about treating their staff so badly, but all the manager would do is bitch about that customer as soon as they left the store and ignore them. There was a huge turnover of staff — the three managers had all been replaced about four times each in six months and so were all very young and inexperienced.

My first paycheck was only about $15, despite doing 20 something hours. They took $80 out for our uniform, which was just a plain pair of black pants and a red button up shirt, nothing special. We weren’t given payslips so on more than one occasion I found I hadn’t been paid for certain shifts shifts in order to avoid paying me overtime. When our rostered shift was over, we weren’t allowed to leave until the manager had given us a list of things to complete. We couldn’t ask for this list 10 minutes or so before our shift was over, we were only allowed to ask for it after our shift was complete. After we had completed this list, which usually took about 20 minutes to do so, then and only then could we ask permission to leave. We weren’t paid for this overtime either.

I soon discovered the industrial chemicals they used to clean and sanitize everything burned my skin fairly badly. I had huge red patches where it had splashed onto my skin all along my arms and the skin started cracking and flaking off on my fingers after using them. When I was told to keep using them, I begged them to let me not as it hurt so much and showed them my hands. Their response? “There’s some concrete out the back. Take some and harden the fuck up, princess” and told me I’d be written up if I didn’t keep using the chemicals. Unlike most fast food jobs, there was no discounts or anything for working there. We weren’t allowed any percentage off the food or even a free drink. And since the store was located on a rather isolated highway, there wasn’t much options for food. We were also underpaid by about $5 below the legal minimum wage limit.

Best of all, when I finally had enough and found myself a new job, the manager threatened to badmouth me as a reference and not pay me the annual leave/sick leave I had saved up if I quit. I found out later from people who still worked there that she was telling them to badmouth me to my new colleagues in an effort to blackmail me into staying, since they didn’t want me to quit. I’ve been told be many people to sue them since apparently a lot of things they have done are illegal, but I’m not going to. I’m just happy to be out of there.

Comments (39)

Karen HiebertDecember 20th, 2010 at 10:49 am

I would at least report them to the better business bureau. type of option. that is terrible and its ILLEGAL.

ReneDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:11 am

Sue them so they don’t do that to someone else.

JBDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:15 am

I know that other people have told you this, but you really should sue them. If not, they might hire someone else who might get Seriously injured due to the chemicals, etc. It’s not just about you, it’s about holding them accountable and making sure these wrongful practices don’t continue. Just a thought.

JChiefDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:17 am

Meh. It’s fast food. You’re SUPPOSED to be mistreated. My first job, at age 16, was at a burger shack, and I have that experience as a benchmark.

I don’t understand why workers and even customers expect 5-star treatment. You get what you pay for (or what you’re paid).

One thing to consider – WEAR GLOVES. Restaurants use industrial-grade cleaners, and that shit WILL eat through your skin and finger nails. I learned very quickly to wear rubber gloves.

gtruckDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:22 am

My first job was a fast food chain and I had none of these issues. Also, I made sure they knew I wouldn’t tolerate it. Anyway, damn… Since you didn’t sue you should have stole to make up for your time there.

TedDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:41 am

I need to open a business and then pay my employees $0.10 an hour and if anyone complains, I’ll just tell them to fuck off. Apparently there are massive numbers of people out there stupid enough to put up with that. I’ll make a mint

MeshellDecember 20th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Yeah, Ted, you do that. Apparently there are an equal number of nasty crooks out to take advantage of those “stupid” people. Do you have a picture of Madoff with a little heart around his head at your workspace?

OP – It’s understandable that you don’t want to go about this legally, but like JB pointed out, you can do so much good by reporting your former employer. The reason they are getting away with it and were able to use you is that they have gotten comfortable with no one stepping up for their rights. It takes a lot less effort on your part than you realize, and you get a little bit of altruistic revenge (oh oxymorons).

JerryDecember 20th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Ted, people do that all over the world. They’re called sweatshops. And I think you meant to say “desperate” instead of “stupid”.

OPDecember 20th, 2010 at 1:18 pm

OP here.

You’re probably not going to believe this, but I did actually try to wear arm-length gloves whenever I had wash everything in basins full of sanitizer and other chemicals. Believe it or not, I got in trouble for it by one of the managers for it! This is the same manager who tried to blackmail me into staying, of course, and was (in her own words) “a vindictive bitch”. (She was quite proud of that fact).

My main reasons for why I’m not interested in pursuing legal action is that I’m just a teenager. Surely it’d be a case of “she-said, he-said”? There were security cameras in the store, but I doubt they’d allow me to use footage from them to help my case.
Not just that, I’m sure it’d be a long and lengthy process to try and get any money out of them, and I’m leaving the country to go study overseas in 2 months. That was the whole reason why I was working there and putting up with their abuse to begin with- I needed to save some money and most people won’t hire someone fresh out of highschool unless it’s a minimum wage job.

TedDecember 20th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

@Jerry – No, I live in a first world country, I meant “stupid”.

@Meshell – No, I don’t. What a stupid question… You should come work for me.

NurseDreaDecember 20th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Ugh……. ted is back with all his elitist glory. Meshell, it’s not pictured at his work, it’s tattooed on his ass.

MousieMouseDecember 20th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Sue them. Hell, if multiple restaurants in the fast food chain employ the same illegal tactics and you get the right lawyer, you might be able to get a class-action lawsuit out of it. I’m not sure how lawsuits work in Australia, but you could come out with a whole lot more money than you would have if they actually paid you properly in the first place.

TedDecember 20th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

You may apply as well, NurseDrea

HollyDecember 20th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Please sue, the unemployment rates for lawyers are quite high right now. Help a lawyer out, yo.

JerryDecember 20th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Ted, I’m not sure if you’re saying there aren’t sweatshops in first world countries or there aren’t desperate people, but neither of those are true. I’m not denying that there are stupid people out there or that some people stay at bad jobs for bad reasons. Generally, people don’t stick with a crappy job because their stupid, they do it because they’re desperate.

BeccaDecember 20th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Don’t worry Ted, some people understood your joke. I thought it was funny.

oiDecember 20th, 2010 at 4:12 pm

yikes! That is one nightmarish job and people are like meh, it’s nothing. The OP is
1.excessively overworked
2.badly treated
3. underpaid (ok that’s standard)
4. Not at all paid at times!
5. No employee perks (Standard)
6. No work place hazard compensation!
7. threatened to be bad mouthed!
8. Paycheck shenanigans!
May be certain kind of people are in wrong business and need to know that fast food is the right business and not drug dealing .

AndyDecember 20th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hmmm… Red Rooster maybe? They never seem to have enough people on.

As other commenters have mentioned you should at least report them to Fair Trading (the Aus version of the BBB) so others don’t suffer the way you did.

Karen HiebertDecember 20th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

if you are a teen all the more reason to prevent other teens. you will have witnesses with the other people who were being told to blackmail….

Garter SnakeDecember 20th, 2010 at 11:07 pm

@ JChief: You can’t be serious, but just in case you are: nobody is “supposed to be mistreated.” I do not see how someone expecting to be paid for all the hours she works can be accused of expecting “5-star treatment.” She’s not complaining about rude customers or making unreasonable demands; she’s just expecting to be paid for working.

YanDecember 21st, 2010 at 12:36 am

I’m starting to think that it doesen’t matter how utterly unfair, illegal, and twisted a job experience can be, there will be a bunch of people who come in and say “it was your fault!” or “what did you expect, working in X?”


Experiences like these is why we have labour laws and why we should be fucking glad to have them. Can you imagine how much more often this kind of stuff would happen if it wasn’t illegal?

CrankyFaceDecember 21st, 2010 at 2:31 am

@OP: Evidence isn’t necessary for WorkSafe (they can do a surprise visit for the chemical thing) and the Fair Work Ombudsman would only require a diary of hours if it’s a pay dispute or an issue with breaks (just having written “no break” in your diary is enough) but even without this they can investigate. Not providing you with pay dockets is illegal in Aus so you could make that your main complaint because that would fuck up their shit the most easily. The Ombudsman website is super helpful:

Also revenge is sweet!

pffDecember 21st, 2010 at 4:55 am

i pride myself in never have worked in fast food and i never will, even if i were paid to. i hope u have a better job because that is your right.

TedDecember 21st, 2010 at 8:31 am

Wait a minute! WAIT A MINUTE! HOLD UP!

@Jerry… There are sweatshops… IN AMERICA!?!?!?!

(I fainted)

NurseDreaDecember 21st, 2010 at 10:43 am

Sorry ted, not ready to leave my glorified ass wiper career just yet.

JChiefDecember 21st, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Garter Snake:

I worked many years in restaurants while I was going to school. I started at the very bottom, which was a burger stand. I and the other kids working there were treated like total shit. When they caught a kid “stealing” food, they would slap the cuffs on him/her and march them around the park for everyone to see. The assholes never caught me, though.

Working fast food sucks. One has low-class (and stupid) people riding their ass from BOTH sides of the counter. You can’t be serious thinking otherwise.

OP – girl, I believe you. They probably didn’t want to spend the extra money on rubber gloves, which wear out almost every night. What a bunch of idiots.

But please trust me, years from now you will look back at this and laugh. The greatest revenge you could have is to make something of yourself, come back, and see these morons doing the same thing.

clever nameDecember 21st, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hate to defend sweat shops, but they are better than a lot of the other work options. They are not outside, and are often paid higher wage than most equal jobs. It’s still not nice, but better than outside underpaid labor.

SurrealDecember 21st, 2010 at 6:31 pm

JChief, just because you had shitty experiences working at fast food places doesn’t mean this story is “meh”. I cannot understand why you think it’s nothing bad and people should expect it and just get used to it. It’s as others have stated, these places probably treat their employees like shit because no one wants to bother with suing them. If employees had more understanding of their legal rights then this would not happen so much.

OPDecember 21st, 2010 at 8:21 pm


thanks for that info! That’ll really come in handy! I might see what I can do. ^^

JChiefDecember 22nd, 2010 at 9:00 am


As much as I despised the people who lorded over me, I can’t honestly say that they did anything illegal. But one can be perfectly legal and be a flaming asshole at the same time.

What I would tell kids these days is to stay the f*ck away from fast food joints. They’re always hiring because people are constantly jumping ship. The lowest level I would advise is a chain restaurant. They’re a pain in the ass, but you can learn skills and then apply to a REAL restaurant (an independent).

Be a dish washer. Believe it or not, I found that job more fun than being a prep cook, which is a step up from that. And you can hit on the waitresses. It’s actually part of the dish washer’s job.

tronnerDecember 22nd, 2010 at 10:22 am

Not trying to be a grammar snob but were you paid $5.00, which happened to be below the minimum wage, or $5.00 below the minimum wage? If it’s the latter, what the hell is the minimum wage in Australia?

XanDecember 22nd, 2010 at 11:54 am

If you’re not going to sue you should at least report it. People who never speak up are the reason this sort of thing continues. Other employees there are being abused in the same way, and you’re allowing it to happen by not doing anything.

JonasDecember 22nd, 2010 at 6:45 pm

OMG Ted is my absolute favourite commenter because he says the exact things I’m thinking. I don’t get why so many people tolerate jobs like this?! Thank you, Ted, for making me realize I’m not crazy for getting annoyed by hearing these same stories of people allowing themselves to be doormats.

YanDecember 24th, 2010 at 7:23 am

Those who say “I don’t understand how people would put up with it!” or “I would never work fast food” have obviously not had to choose between working at a fast food joint and being penniless.

Get off your high horses, y’all.

ClaireDecember 25th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

@ the OP; if you pursue legal action and there are video tapes, couldn’t your law enforcement officials get a warrant to view them? I’m not sure how it works in Australia, and even in the US, one person’s word would probably be insufficient for a warrant, but I’m sure there were others who were mistreated at this job as well.

SomeoneDecember 26th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

@tronner, seriously, apply a second of thought. OP clearly says she’s Australian, hence $ is more than likely Australian dollars and not American dollars.

Story of a MVW comment thread
1. Perhaps an amusing comment
2. Brutal slating of OP
3. Self-righteous defending of OP
4. Pointless argument semi related to the original issue with a few trolls thrown into the mix.

Do not feed the trolls, people. Ignore them.

tronnerDecember 27th, 2010 at 10:40 am

@ Someone. Seriously, apply a second of thought. Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with what I asked. I never said it was American dollars. I merely asked what the minimum wage in Australia is. Moreover, it isn’t as if she was complaining she was paid five less Mexican Pesos per hour than what minimum wage requires; the Au dollar and the US dollar are trading about 1:1 right now (and the Au dollar has been stronger in the recent past), so the impact of $5.00 less per hour translates pretty well.

doriDecember 29th, 2010 at 5:24 pm

oh! I never knew that this post was getting this much action! Thanks insomnia!

excantareJanuary 8th, 2011 at 5:51 am

@ tronner – the minimum wage in Australia for a teenager in fast food is around $15-18 depending on your age and the state you work in. After 21, it levels out at around $20-24 depending on the state and industry you’re in (fast food, real restaurants, book stores etc).

But people don’t really tip in Australia, so we don’t have that income. Although, at 20, in a bar I was getting $23 an hour PLUS tips, but I was lucky.

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