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One of Australia’s largest McDonald’s franchise operators has been fined for subjecting young workers to “cruel and inhumane” conditions.

The Federal Court in Queensland has found one of Australia’s largest McDonald’s franchise operators in breach of workers’ rights after refusing to allow young employees to take short breaks during their shifts.

Federal Court Justice John Logan found three McDonald’s restaurants run by Tantex Holdings Pty Limited, whose sole director is Brisbane hospitality identity Tanya Manteit-Mulcahy, denied workers their right to take breaks to have a drink or go to the toilet.

Tandex operates six McDonald’s restaurants in Brisbane, including outlets in Queen St Mall, Central Station and at Windsor.

Justice Logan ruled that Tantex-operated stores were in breach of multiple workplace laws under the Fair Work Act.

He labelled the employees’ working conditions as “cruel and inhumane”.

Tantex allowed 10-minute breaks only if the workers were rostered on to work for shifts longer than four hours and that break would be the only time they would be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet.

The casual workers rostered on for shorter than four-hour shifts were told they were not permitted to take a break, even to go to the toilet or to stop and have a drink of water.

A leaked message from a store manager in a private Facebook group for staff at its Windsor West outlet was at the centre of the legal action.

“I hope to God you don’t get thirsty on your next shift because we just wouldn’t be able to allow a drink,” the post from store manager Chris Crenicean read.

“If we implement this … this 10-minute break would be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet.”

Justice Logan, who described the ruling as unprecedented in Australia as he could not find any cases on the right to toilet and water breaks, labelled the Facebook comments “a threat”.

“There is an element of cruelty in a threat that entails denying to a worker on a shift of up to and including four hours duration no opportunity either to take a drink or to go to the toilet outside a designated 10 minute break,” the judge said.

The Facebook message was in response to a union request to allow employees to take one paid 10-minute break every four hours, which some workers had asked for and were entitled to under the award.

The manager wrote that most crew members would not qualify for the paid break given many work shy of four hours, so banning them from taking any breaks was reasonable because “fair is fair”.

The workers were also told they could not call in sick after 10pm on the day prior to their shift, which was outlined in a message posted on one of the many Facebook groups that employees and managers communicated on.

In addition, workers were told they were not allowed to swap shifts or sick days on public holidays.

In another Facebook communication, a worker who claimed to be unwell was told she could “absolutely not” call in sick, with Ms Manteit-Mulcahy writing: “You need to work this shift.”

An older Facebook post leaked by workers showed Ms Manteit-Mulcahy write: “The sick calls and no shows. ENOUGH! Sort out your lives!” and “STOP THE SICK CALLS … IT IS RIDICULOUS”.

There will be another hearing in November which will determine whether pecuniary penalties will be imposed against Tantex after receiving submissions from both parties.

McDonald’s said it will wait for a determination on the proposed penalties to be handed down in November before commenting further.

The Federal Court action is the first of its kind against McDonald’s in Australia.