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.