Hesburger founder blames middle management, Covid crisis for staff dissatisfaction

Current and former employees of the nationwide fast-food chain have complained of chronic under-staffing problems.

Hesburger founder and chair of the company's board Heikki Salmela. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

Hesburger's founder Heikki Salmela told Yle's current affairs programme A-studio on Monday evening that he was not aware of the problems affecting the fast-food restaurant chain's employees.

"Our staff have been the most important thing in the world for us, and if the service profession does not understand the importance of personnel, then that is outrageous. I could not have believed we would be in this type of situation, but it must be believed now that so many say it. We take this really seriously and it will be resolved," Salmela said.

Hesburger employees had reported issues such as chronic under-staffing, having to work for 10 hours without breaks or being put under pressure to go home before their shifts were finished, thus not receiving their full pay.

One 21-year-old current employee told Yle that staff sometimes cry together during shifts because the working conditions are so stressful.

Salmela, who is also chair of the company's board, told A-studio that if the company's middle management are found to have acted incorrectly, it will be addressed by senior management.

He further stated that employees should never be pressured to end their shift early, but can be asked if they would like to go home, and asked anyone with experience of being pressured to report it to him via email.

Salmela ready to receive feedback "even in middle of the night"

During the A-studio interview, Salmela was asked why the restaurant chain had not complied with employment law, for example with regard to staff taking breaks.

"Here is a simple problem: we have a labour shortage. There is an insane shortage of people in the Helsinki region in particular," he said. "In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has brought home delivery solutions like Wolt and Foodora. I, and perhaps senior management too, have not realised how much this has confused and stressed the staff."

He further promised that employees could contact him, even in the middle of the night, to tell him about their experiences.

"My phone number is public, my email address is public," he said, adding that there would be no negative consequences for any employees providing feedback.

Salmela said an investigation into the issues raised by the employees would begin on Tuesday and that the results will be announced within a week or two.