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Burger King student workers protest against late-night work requirement

08:48 26/06/2023

Students working for a Burger King in Auderghem are blowing the whistle on the fast-food chain's labour policy that wants them working until midnight or as late as 3.00.

An email from the restaurant's manager, seen by RTBF, explained that the late-night shifts were “non-negotiable” and indicated that anyone unable to work them would see their contract terminated.

Students said they had never been given those conditions before and that few of them even have a car or driving licence, meaning they would have to take a taxi home after the late shifts – a cost amounting to about two hours of work at their rate of pay.

The manager’s letter was submitted to Fabrizio Antioco, spokesperson for the labour inspectorate, for an opinion.

"I can't comment on this specific case," he replied. "Generally speaking, what I can tell you is that an employer who behaves in a way that humiliates, denigrates or is aggressive towards his employees may be accused, depending on the case, of either harassment in the workplace or the offence of psychological violence in the workplace.

"The difference between the two is that for there to be violence, a single episode is sufficient."

The surprise mandatory late-night shifts are not the only issue that student employees have found when it comes to their employment with Burger King Auderghem.

"The employment contract stipulates that you receive your timetable for the week five days in advance. However, on one occasion we received our timetable for Monday by email at 23.00 on Sunday, when you may already be in bed," one student told RTBF.

"Managers also put pressure on sick employees to return to work as quickly as possible. Too many absences is an indicator for the manager not to take us back.

"But you have to remember that contracts are renewed every month. So we end up with students and employees who come in sick. This was the case with a manager who came to work with Covid. He simply put on a mask and worked in contact with staff and customers alike."

Other issues, such as unfulfilled promises of flexible working hours during the exam session, led some students to resign.

Another point of contention was that management required staff to give the restaurant a five-star rating on Google Review, with an audit to follow.

The manager declined to comment on the matter, referring media to Burger King’s parent company, Burger Brands Belgium.

Its chief executive Kevin Derycke said he did not endorse the email sent to students under contract in July.

"No, the content and form of the letter were unprofessional, as the manager himself admitted, and that's something we don't accept under any circumstances," Derycke said, adding that late-night shifts for student workers came down to a discussion between managers and employees.

"It's true that we have a restaurant that's open 365 days a year, also in the evenings and at night, but it's always on a voluntary basis and when we carry out a job interview and offer these contracts to students, it's clearly stated that we ask certain people to be available.

"If they are subsequently no longer available, this is either agreed with the manager or we give new availability and provide other hours if for some reason people are no longer available.”

The restaurant manager sent an apology to the staff afterwards.

Written by Helen Lyons