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Examples of rest break exploitation

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, October 28th, 2009 - 19 comments
Categories: dpf, national/act government, workers' rights - Tags:

Over at Kiwiblog, David Farrar is doing his usual apologetics for National by trying to spin its removal of guaranteed rest and meal breaks. It’s the usual mix of falsehoods and recycled spin, but one comment stuck out in particular:

And you know, despite no statutory requirement, I don’t know of any great plethora of complaints from workers not allowed a break… Again I’d love same actual examples (ie name the employers) who had not allowed staff meal and refreshment breaks.

It’s a rare thing to see such a potent combination of arrogance and ignorance in just one post. He’s basically denying, from a position of ignorance, that there’s any problem at all and implying that anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Perhaps David should step outside the beltway some time and talk to some actual workers.

There are plenty of examples out there of workers being forced to work with either inadequate or non-existent breaks. That’s why Labour introduced the law in the first place.

Last year, when the bill was up for debate, the EPMU’s Andrew Little said lack of breaks was the most frequent complaint his union heard from non-members who called up asking for help. He even gave an example:

‘Just last week we had a call from a non-union worker at a BP franchise who was working a seven hour nightshift with no breaks whereas EPMU members at BP-owned sites get a minimum of two short paid breaks and a half hour lunch-break that is paid or unpaid depending on circumstances.

“Unfortunately, too many employers have the attitude that if it’s not in the law they don’t have to provide for it.’

SFWU national secretary John Ryall made a similar point in a recent guest post here at The Standard.

In that post he told the story of an Indian immigrant worker, James Joseph, who was forced to work split shifts from 10am to 2pm, then 4.30pm to 11pm without a break. When he insisted on taking a short break every three hours he was called a “troublemaker” and sacked by his employer.

When he raised the work break issue with his next employer, he thought he would be on safer ground because he actually had a written employment agreement, something that had not been given him in his previous job. The Agreement even had a rest breaks clause:

‘The Employer can arrange Rest and Meal Breaks so that they do not cause disruption to clients, customers or production.’

He approached his employer about scheduling in some rest breaks and was told that it was not possible during the hours he worked because the restaurant was always too busy. After arguing with the employer about the intention of the clause James decided to schedule his own breaks and talked to his fellow workers about doing the same. The employer didn’t take long to react to this ‘insubordination’. He showed James the door.

James went on to submit to the select committee on the law. He told them what it was like trying to get by without guarnateed rest and meal breaks.

‘Being an overseas worker is not easy when you have nowhere else to go; you don’t have a house; you don’t have a job; you don’t have anyone to talk to. We do need something. We are just killing ourselves.’

James’ full story can be read here. It’s worth a read.

When you read James’ story, just think. If National repeals guaranteed rest and meal breaks, thousands of workers like him will once again be put in this dreadful situation. Does anyone think this is fair? And are these the sort of working conditions we want in this country?

Like I said this morning, guaranteed work rights like rest and meal breaks aren’t there for the majority who have decent employers or a good collective agreement. They’re there to help vulnerable workers like James who don’t have the bargaining power to stand up to a bad employer.

As for Farrar, I have nothing but contempt for someone who would try to spin this disgraceful attack on people like James, whether out of ignorance, malice or a combination of the two.

19 comments on “Examples of rest break exploitation”

  1. Seti 1

    Seven-hour nightshift at a BP? The whole shift is practically one long break.

  2. sean14 2

    I would hope Mr Little would have better examples of workers not getting a break than a night-shift worker at BP. The reason that person wouldn’t get a formal break? Because he’s the only one working the shift. Still, I suppose the employer could put another staff member on, which would likely make it uneconomic to open the station and cost the guy his job.

    Besides, there must be a few readers here who have worked graveyard at a petrol station. Was there really that much work? I thought it was a great job when I was a student, and there was plenty of time to read the Dominion from front to back before anybody else, and for free. The whole shift was one long break!

    • Jak 2.1

      I’ve done that and it’s no joy at all being stuck in one place. The ability to close up the shop and go for a walk, go somewhere else, see something different, do something different makes a big difference to how you feel.

  3. randal 3

    petrol schmetrol.boo hoo. the point is that everybody needs a rest and refreshment. this attempt to restrict the health and happiness of workers is just another attempt by neanderthals from the right o beat up on their employees.
    really dumb stuff but that is what kiwi bosses are like. they are not in it for the money but being an employer is the only way they can enforce their will. and even worse on peiople who cant fight back. these types are the backbone of the natoinal party.

  4. Daveo 4

    Yeah, life’s a party working night shift on the minimum wage. Interesting to see these righties have completely ignored the James Joseph story.

    • Scribe 4.1

      Just reading the details on here (not the link) about James Joseph, he was treated very poorly. The contract at the second place was intentionally worded (it seems) to mean he couldn’t take breaks.

      There should be standard language for employment contracts to ensure that there can’t be such ambiguity and potential for abuse.

      • Eddie 4.1.1

        Yeah, that’s why I prefer minimum entitlements in legislation, otherwise you get situations like this.

        I think the current law (the one about to be repealed) struck the balance between legal protections and flexibility about right.

        I can’t see any reason, outside of pure ideology or downright meanness, why this law needs to be changed.

  5. If person A wants to miss his break for time off later and person B allows it, then I don’t see what business it is of person C.

    But in a socialist world, Person D to J will have to have a commitee meeting first.

    While persons K to P will complain that the meeting members should have a culture greeting first.

    While persons Q to U will complain why are we using the English alphabet?

    While persons V to W will start a blog about how life is unfair to them.

    While persons X to Y will do all the hard work.

    While person Z will say persons X to Y didnt do all the hard work, they just had a lucky break because of the colour of their skin.

    In all seriousness, if a worker wants to give up his break for time off later, they should be allowed.

    Although If someone is forced to work during a break period, the employer should be had up in a court of law.

    • Daveo 5.1

      Although If someone is forced to work during a break period, the employer should be had up in a court of law.

      That’s the whole point, Brett. Under National’s law changes the behaviour you describe will be perfectly legal.

      This isn’t about “flexibility”, it’s about removing employment protections.

  6. A Nonny Moose 6

    The mental and physical well being of their workers? An opportunity to attend to “personal needs”? Sounds like some of that Nanny State bs /sarcasm.

    How the hell do employers forget that happy employees are productive employees? Gawd it makes my teeth grind.

    Feckin’ hell, what do they want them to do? Faint from lack of food? Pee in their chair from not being able to go to the toilet? Leave their kid standing at the school gate because they can’t afford a few minutes to pick them up?

    What is this, fricken 1809, not 2009? What a great way to celebrate “Labour Day”.

  7. roger nome 7

    Check-out worker to boss:

    “Hey boss, nah, no need for a break – standing on my feet for 8 hours straight, pffft who wants to sit down and take some refreshments?”

    David Farrar is the king of willful stupidity. I’d like to see that guy on his feet for 8 hours straight. He’s friggen well collapse.

    • Noko 7.1

      He’s friggen well collapse.
      Either that, or he’d lose some of that flab he probably needs to get rid of. Probably help with that blood pressure of his too.

      Does anyone know if he has private insurance, or do we all have to pay for his healthcare?

  8. roger nome 8

    Brett Dale:

    That’s the exact logic that the National Party used when introducing the Employment Contracts Act. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in reality.

    This is an extract from my Masters Thesis:

    the ECA did not require employers to negotiate with an employee’s designated representative. This allowed employers to take unilateral control to determine who would bargain for their workers because the law permitted it and the environment did not constrain them (Report of the Minority. 1993 cited in Danin 1997: 177). Indeed, a Labour Select Committee Minority Report found that no real negotiation was occurring, and that in most cases employers insisted and workers gave in out of fear of not being accepted for employment (Report of the Minority, 1993 cited in Danin, 1997:176). This finding was echoed in a Majority Report, which stated that

    Many witnesses, particularly from the retail and services industries, said employers do not communicate with them about their contracts and frequently intimidate employees into signing contracts with the message that they will be dismissed if they do not (Report of the Labour Committee 1991, cited in Danin 1997:176-177). Similarly, in a study of the secondary labour market by McLaughlin (1999: 11) one fairly recurrent statement was:

    The employer seems to hold all the cards; always the implied threat: “if you don’t like it leave because I’m not changing anything. There are plenty more people who will do the job’.

    The preponderance of this one-way bargaining dynamic is revealed by several empirical studies of the secondary labour market that were undertacken during the 1990s. For example a study by Oxenbride (1999: 227-247) found that up to one third of workers in the Retail and Hospitality industries were covered by standard form IECs involving no negotiation in the contract formation. Similarly in a survey carried out from mid-1995 to 1996 by Ryan (1997: 314), it was found that of 698 workplaces in the Accommodation, Cafes and Restaurants industrial sector, only 56 .2 percent had written employment contracts. Even by managers’ own accounts employment contracts, irrespective of whether they are collective or individual are determined by management, and in only 18.2 percent of workplaces did managers describe their contracts as being negotiated, either by individuals or an employee representative (Ryan 1997: 314). In another study of secondary labour market McLaughlin and Rasmussen, (1998: 286) found that just 45 percent of respondents reported negotiating their contract with employers, and only 20 percent of employees said that they were happy with what they had been offered. Further evidence of the increase in managerial prerogative came from a survey carried out by Rasmussen et al., (2000: 54), which found that 56.7 percent of part-time workers indicated there had been no negotiations in the formation of their contracts, while for people earning below $30,000 annually, this figure was 52.5 percent. So the research seems to present clear and consistent evidence indicating that “freedom of choice’, was very limited for most secondary labour market workers under the ECA.

    With regard to the second pillar of the ECA, freedom of association, the evidence suggests a similarly dismal situation. Of the respondents to the survey by Rasmussen, et al., (2000: 56) only 16.6 percent of part-time employees indicated that they had a choice as to whether they were covered by an individual or a collective contract. Furthermore, in their 1998 study of Auckland’s secondary labour market, McLaughlin and Rasmussen perceived that the freedom to choose between IECs and CECs was low with only 26 percent of respondents indicating that they felt free to choose the type of contract they were on (McLaughlin and Rasmussen, 1998: 286). The authors then go on to explain that the majority of respondents reported being less than satisfied with their contract outcomes and unable to raise contract issues with the employer (McLaughlin and Rasmussen, 1998: 286). Overall the findings of these authors are indicative of low union density in the industry. Indeed in Ryan’s survey only one third of workplaces surveyed reported having a union presence and just 3.6 percent had a union member majority (Ryan 1997: 314).

    As far as working conditions are concerned, the biggest impact that the ECA seems to have had on those working in the secondary labour market concerned the ability to negotiate hours of work. ECA rhetoric suggested that under its provisions employers and employees would be free to negotiate flexible hours that suit both parties. However, the reality portrayed by various surveys of the secondary labour market paint a starkly contrasting picture. In McLaughlin and Rasmussen’s (1998: 288) survey nearly half of the respondents reported that they had no choice about working weekends and evenings while 25 percent said they had a choice sometimes, while 29 percent said they had a choice. One third of respondents reported that the hours they were forced to work had a significantly negative impact on their family life, preventing them from spending enough time with their partners and/or children.

  9. Jak 9

    If you work for Glengarry’s and you are on sole charge, you are not allowed to take any break. Sole charge shifts are up to 6 hours long. I used to work there and used to shut up shop to go for a break, only to be told off by management.

  10. IN my younger days I used to work for a certain fast food restaurant, who will remain nameless, and we would be deny our breaks, it would be very rare if during a week of work that we would get all our breaks for every shift.

    If it got busy we were asked to come back down from the crew room early.

    We weren’t Mchappy about it.

  11. when we getting signatures on a petition to support the bill a couple of years ago, we were surprised at the number of teachers who signed it. they weren’t getting their rest breaks on most days. some of the reasons were because they were either on patrol, cleaning the classroom or preparing for the next session.

  12. roger nome 12

    Brett Dale:

    That kind of employer behavior is all too common in the fast-food industry, but less so now that the Unite! union has collective agrements with BK and Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza hut). Here’s an extract from some interviews i carried out for my thesis:

    Respondent 3 recalls incidents where Managers will alter the hours of workers, or clock them off without the employees knowledge. He then went on to say that:
    Workers have gone in to do training courses to better themselves and they haven’t been paid for it. And we often have the argument, where [sic] you get into the assistant manager roles where you’re expected to work for nothing to get the qualification, and there seems to be an expectation out there that that’s going to happen. And on more than one occasion we’ve gone in and put a stop to that because they’re actually entitled to it.
    Respondent 8:
    I had a call from someone in Dunedin who was coming in 30 minutes early and staying up to one and a half hours after clocking off for clean up in some cases, it’s not an approved practice by central management. Individual store managers have wage budgets and targets, so this provides incentive to act illegally. They also call people in for shifts and send them home without payment, making people wait, having them come in, stores not busy enough so they make them wait an hour before clocking on.

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