Restructuring the disabled out of a job; why I am boycotting KFC New Zealand (updated).

Update: KFC has backtracked under public and political pressure, and is finding ways to re-employ their disabled employees! Thank you to everyone who shared the news story, shared my post, and boycotted KFC with us over the past month. We did it! 🙂

I will consider writing an entire post update, but for now, here is a link to a news story covering the turnaround: “KFC calls back disabled staff” NZ Herald, Sep 29th 2013.

And another good story I just found in the NZ Herald on this issue; an opinion piece on what KFC did, and on employing the disabled more generally: “KFC gives way for the disabled” Opinion Piece in NZ Herald, Sep 29th 2013.

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KFC New Zealand has chosen to restructure its workforce, with the new policy that all workers need to be capable of all duties. The effective result being that their disabled employees are being made redundant in stores throughout the country. There are so many apparent problems with this – legally, ethically, and simply in the area of basic compassion – that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll begin with discrimination and go from there.

By Tom Asher, via Flickr

How can it not be discrimination, when the people targeted by your change in policy are the disabled, who were otherwise doing their jobs well and held a strong work history with the company? If the majority of people affected by the new restructuring policy are the disabled, and very few if any other groups of people in the business are affected, it’s hard not to view the policy as aimed at that specific group of people. I’d need to see statistics on who has lost their job under the new policy, information that is not publicly available, so all I can do at this point is rely on the news story and on common sense, which makes it hard to see this policy in any other light than ultimately aimed at removing their disabled employees. And if it is not aimed at that group, but that group is the primary one affected, the point is still the same: Effective discrimination. Whether it is legally justified discrimination is the next question, and a question that I feel belongs in the courts.

Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that KFC took all appropriate procedural steps in the restructuring and resultant job losses, including full and fair consultation with the workers most likely to be affected, and attempts to retrain and ascertain if they were capable of doing the work required. In fact, based on the information in the news story – including the surprise devastation of a worker who only received three days notice, and another family’s view that the store did not try to figure out if the worker could do the work required – it looks like KFC has completely failed in this area. Taking into account the employees most likely to be affected – the disabled – I would have also thought that any consultation process should have been that much more involved with external support people, such as union representatives and family, I see no evidence of this involvement in the personal stories.

It’s hard to figure out exactly what KFC has and has not done here, because they’ve chosen to not respond to the media questions about the process: “Restaurant Brands general manager of people and performance Jennifer Blight refused to answer questions about the policy.” So I can only go on the information made public by some of those affected. All of that information says to me that this matter belongs in the Employment courts, not just before the Human Rights Commission. But the disabled are notoriously dis-empowered when it comes to representing themselves to the courts. So I’m happy to see that a Union is involved, and that family members and the media are publicly and loudly supporting the workers; at least they think it is an issue worth talking about, even if KFC doesn’t.

The effect of the lost work on these people is huge, not just financially, but emotionally too: “Staff put in their own money to buy Jared a farewell gift and dinner. “It was really sad. He was sitting out in the restaurant trying to eat his meal and he burst into tears.”” It also affects their sense of personal worth: ““The work makes them feel worthy,” Steve said, “and all of a sudden they’re unworthy.”” It is hard to quantify what the process (or lack of process) and resulting job losses, have done to these individuals.

KFC has done itself huge damage too. My very first memory of seeing a disabled person employed, was at a KFC restaurant, it was a very positive thing for me to see as a child. KFC has also received very positive press in the past for its willingness to employ the disabled: “Jared Dixon, who has autism, was restructured out of his job at KFC in Greymouth. He’d worked there for 16 years doing three hours a week – making the local newspaper in 2006 when the company presented him with a long-service award for 10 years on the job.” Yet here they are undoing all that good will, by now restructuring them out of the business.

I, for one, am so disgusted with KFC’s attitude and approach to the situation, that my family will no longer buy their products until the situation is resolved (we did buy from KFC at least three times a week). I will ask the same of my extended family and anyone else who listens to me. At the very least, I would like to see  KFC publicly acknowledge the issue and its importance. They can speak to the matter without breaching any laws surrounding confidentiality, they are choosing not to give it the time it deserves. This is unacceptable.

Even if it isn’t discrimination, even if it isn’t a breach of correct employment procedures, it is still a complete failure of basic compassion. Disabled people find it difficult to overcome existing societal discrimination against them. Taking away the job they eventually got, is so much more than a lost job, it is the loss of their place in society, the place where they have friendships, the place where they were respected and seen and appreciated. If there was any way at all that KFC could have retained their positions in the business, they should have done so. These would have been their most vulnerable employees – at least one of which was using the income to support other family members – so KFC surely should have been all the more careful and considerate with how their decisions impact on this group of people.

Please help me put pressure on KFC to review what it’s doing, by sharing the news story, sharing this post, boycotting their products, or / and writing to KFC to express your disgust. You don’t have to be in New Zealand to put pressure on them, feel free to let your national KFC know how deeply New Zealand’s KFC restaurants are damaging the brand. This is not OK. Let them know this is not OK.

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6 Responses to Restructuring the disabled out of a job; why I am boycotting KFC New Zealand (updated).

  1. Glen Herud says:

    Pretty sad really. We employ a young guy part time with Aspergers. He does an OK job, but more important, it makes him feel special.

    What is the real cost to KFC? In the whole scheme, its probably pretty low.

    Business need to be profitable, but biz also has a responsibility.

    Imagine if every biz employed a special needs person part time. It would make a big difference to lives of many, at a pretty minimal cost.

    It also improves workplace culture. Showing that its not all about the $.

    Cheers
    Glen

  2. Angela says:

    Great post! Let’s get this message out there on Facebook. Appalled at KFC. This is wrong on so many levels.

  3. grahamta says:

    I am not in NZ, but I posted on the KFC page in support. That shouldn’t happen anywhere.

  4. Shirley says:

    I’m so pleased for the workers that they have the opportunity to return to work! What a great result.

    I would like to support other NZ businesses who have programmes to employ and support disabled workers, do you have any ideas on who they are, or how I can find out?

    • Unfortunately I don’t off-hand Shirley, but that’s a great idea and I will see if I can find out who those businesses are. There are lots of companies and organisations that fund charities, but going the extra step of employing the disabled is such a valuable step towards equality and inclusion that it would be great to find out who those businesses are and give them the good press they deserves. Thanks for bringing this up.

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