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Issue #1917      June 1, 2020


In early May, Fawkner McDonalds, located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, was forced to close after a handful of staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Maccas branch shut down for five days after a second positive case was tested. Later, the number grew to 10, and almost 1,000 workers were sent into self-isolation.

The causes of McCluster outbreak are unpaid pandemic leave and casualisation of staff. Currently, there are two options for workers who have to self-isolate: unpaid pandemic leave or annual leave at twice the length, but half the pay. For casuals, which make up a large amount of McDonald’s staff, the second choice is simply not an option. Any signs of COVID-19 – or sickness in general! – represent a choice between pay or no pay. When pay means making rent, going to the doctors, eating food, and basic survival, then it’s pretty obvious workers are going to choose to come to work. As Josh Cullinan of RAFFWU said, it’s “take it or leave it – take the shift or not work.”

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) was quick to respond to the situation, condemning McDonald’s bullying tactics to keep the Fawkner store open. While Fawkner’s usual workers were isolated, McDonald’s brought in other workers from different chains to keep the store open. After a few days, the outbreak spread to the nearby Craigieburn store and then to twelve other McDonald’s locations.

Maccas claim they are going above and beyond hygiene measures. However, RAFFWU has reported, along with photographic evidence, that the franchise has been handing out hand sanitiser with 30 per cent ethanol content as opposed to the sixty per cent minimum required to neutralise the virus. Instead of giving workers effective hand sanitiser, they are selling seventy-five per cent ethanol hand sanitiser!

The outbreak came at the same time as the current attack on fast-food workers under the shoddy amendments to the Fast Food Award that the May 1 Movement fought against alongside RAFFWU, see: Guardian issue #1916.

Also, during this time, the outbreak connected to an abattoir, Cedar Meats, located in Brooklyn, a suburb west of Melbourne, has been steadily increasing. As of 25th May, there are 111 COVID-19 cases connected to Cedar Meats. While many meat workers are migrant workers, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) stated that there were “few, if any, visa-workers on site” at the time of the outbreak at Cedar Meats. In AMIEU’s statement on the outbreak, it is also mentioned how the meat industry has been a hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks in America and Canada. The AMIEU called for paid pandemic leave in order to prevent similar outbreaks.

Initial clusters in Melbourne occurred in the wealthy suburbs of the south-east, with many cases linked to people returning from overseas travel. Now, we are seeing clusters break out in Melbourne’s working-class suburbs as a direct result of insecure work and a lack of paid pandemic leave. If the current working conditions remain, it can be expected that while the country is beginning to open up, workplace clusters will only increase.


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