Young Workers Say They Feel Unsafe Working Alone At Franchise Stores. Here’s Why.

"There were a few times when a group of men were sitting in the store, and they wouldn’t leave and it was 10pm."

Young workers say they're scared to work at franchise stores alone.

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Two out of three young workers at franchise stores around Australia say they feel unsafe, bullied or uncomfortable at work, according to new research by the Young Workers Centre.

A survey of 373 young workers across 79 different franchise brands revealed that many teens and young people are being left to run stores alone early in the morning and late at night, and they don’t feel safe doing it. Young workers also reported being harassed by customers and management and having their shifts cut after complaining about safety issues.

One sixteen-year-old worker currently employed by Subway said she is left alone in the store from 4pm to 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights, which makes her uncomfortable. Meanwhile, a former employee at McDonalds said she “received sexual comments from coworkers and was harassed by customers, and two male staff members competed over who would get to date me despite me being 14-15 and both of them being over 18. Many other female teenage workers had similar experiences.”

“We repeatedly heard that teenagers as young as 15 were asked to work late at night by themselves, or with another teenager, and without any safety protections from the franchisee or franchisor head office,” Young Workers Centre Director Keelia Fitzpatrick told Junkee.

“They reported being left to fend for themselves as they face harassment, including sexual harassment from customers or dealing with drunk customers or people coming into store bathrooms to take drugs.”

The survey also found that four in ten young franchise workers have either been injured at work or know a coworker who’s been injured. The majority of the injuries recorded were burns, but young workers also reported cuts or slices, falls, broken bones, back injuries, and even fainting from lack of breaks.

One former Subway worker, Renee, told Junkee that she often felt scared working there, in part because she often worked late at night as a 15-year-old, with only one other 18-year-old girl in the store.

“I remember even feeling a bit scared when the person would put the bins out,” she said. “We had dumpsters out the back and I’d be like oh, I’m in here by myself. Even though that was only for like five minutes.”

Renee described customers abusing her on the job, as well as feeling scared when groups of men came in to loiter near closing time.

“There were a few times when a group of men were sitting in the store, and they wouldn’t leave and it was 10pm and I just felt — this is going to sound really wrong, but you just get a vibe sometimes,” she said, saying she sometimes had to call her parents and ask them to come and pick her up because she was scared to leave alone.

“I was lucky in that sense, I was lucky that we lived so close and my parents were able to pick me up. A lot of people drive there by themselves, and a lot of people don’t live that close.”

Franchisors More Concerned About Store Appearance Than Safety Training

The Young Workers Centre survey also found that when franchisor representatives did visit stores to check in, they seemed more concerned with store presentation and staff uniforms than making sure health and safety training was up to scratch.

Eighty-nine percent of workers said franchisor representatives took a look at store presentation when they visited, and 83 percent said the representatives monitored store hygiene and cleanliness. Just 40 percent, by contrast, said the representatives monitored staff training.

Renee told Junkee that as far as personal safety when working alone goes, “we weren’t trained in any way, even in something like a bit of dispute resolution or something like that. There was just no training in any aspect.”

“Of course, there’s training in like, how to prep all the food and make sure your uniform is best — they care about all these processes which obviously bring money to the company or the store, but they don’t teach you things about your own personal safety or anything extra, anything that strays beyond what you’re essentially there to do, which is make the money.”

She said that back when she worked for Subway, from when she was 15 until she was 18 or 19, the lack of training and supervision didn’t strike her as odd.

“I think the reason why it happens so much is that when you’re fifteen and you get your job, you kind of take it as it comes. You just think that’s the done thing, that’s what’s considered normal. You don’t realise it’s just not right,” she said.

“I just always remember not feeling safe, and thinking if someone wanted to come in here and take all this money or hold us up, there was nothing stopping them. You’ve just got two young girls there.”

We reached out to McDonald’s and Subway, two of the businesses mentioned in the survey, to ask how they’re working to ensure the safety of young workers at their franchise stores. We’ll update this article if they respond.

You can find the survey results as well as recommendations on how we can fix the problems at franchise businesses over at the Young Workers Centre.

Feature image via Dwight Burdette on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)