In a landmark Employment Court decision yesterday, the requirement for meat workers to “don and doff” specialist hygiene and other equipment before and after their shifts, and before and after their rest breaks, including their unpaid meal breaks and in their own time has been deemed to be “work” and payable at the minimum wage.
Most people won’t have heard of donning and doffing but for meat workers, it’s something they understand only too well as more and more of their day is spent on ensuring their company has all the protections in place to meet stringent Food Safety and Meat Export regulations.
Donning and doffing has been a growing concern of NZ meat workers in the industry for years and this court action follows other cases where “work” has been more broadly defined, such as Idea Services and Smiths City.
As the requirements around hygiene, food safety, export standards and other regulations have increased, so has the responsibility of meat workers to meet these requirements in their own time before and after work, and before and after paid and unpaid breaks and this concern has become stronger.
The process of “donning and doffing” in the freezing works is clearly outlined in the Court Judgement. Anecdotal research by the Meat Workers Union has shown that many meat workers have an increasing encroachment on their own time.
Add to this the insistence from companies like AFFCO of imposing fewer breaks because their mates in the National Party changed the law
So what’s next?
This case sets a precedent. It remains to be seen whether the Meat Industry will step up and acknowledge the unpaid work they have been increasingly requiring of their workers and find a way through this, by sitting down with the Meat Workers Union.
But what’s clear is the Courts are increasingly of the view that the amount of unpaid work by a range of workers, whether they be in social services, retail, and now manufacturing has to come to an end.