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latest news in employment law

Employers to have a say over Tea & Meal breaks

Published 01 Nov 2009

(Editors comments)
The National Govt has introduced a new Bill into Parliament. If the Bill passes in its present form then employers will have the right to 'trade' the breaks for 'time off' at a later time (in lieu of tea breaks & meal breaks).

While the current legislation (by Labour) is ill conceived, complex, unmanageable, upsets employers and employees alike and nobody really complies, the proposals of this lot will create utter uncertainty in employment. The Government seems determined to remove any doubt about its stupidity.

The unions might have a few points to make if employers are given the right to insist employees take their breaks after work. Probably be frowned on by all employers as well. Certainly there will be some unhappy employees. On the positive side it will be a change to see most employers and the unions in agreement.

The most glaring defect is the Bill relies on 'reasonable' - 'good faith' and 'appropriate breaks having regard for the nature of the work' rather than any specifics and it must be a recipe for disaster.

The main points in the Bill:
  • There does not appear to be specified time limits of the breaks (employees to have "a reasonable period for rest, refreshment and attending to personal matters during the work period") (What next? – and who is going to decide what is reasonable? The employer in this case.
  • The times and length of the breaks are to be agreed between the employer and the employee - but if there is no agreement reached? The employer decides. This reads like another Tui Beer advert although everyone can see they're joking. If employees work remotely and unsupervised this could provide the conduit for a real scrap over the untaken breaks amounting to two hours daily "So I won't be here on Friday Boss".
  • If the employer decides to offer 'compensatory measures' there will be no requirement to have any breaks at all during working hours– HHhhhmmmmmnnnn.
The main point of tea and meal breaks is obviously for rest, recuperation & sustenance and all employers will agree on a need for them.