Meal breaks

Written By: - Date published: 1:46 pm, March 26th, 2008 - 13 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags:

I had planned to write something about the business lobby’s moaning over Labour’s plans to restore workers’ rights to meal and rest breaks, but as usual No Right Turn nails it perfectly:

The government’s plan to restore a minimum entitlement for breaks in the workplace has produced the usual reaction: squealing from employer’s groups, with the Hospitality Association warning that it will introduce ‘time police’, while Business NZ claims that it is unnecessary as workers and employers are working it out for themselves.

The former is simply scaremongering – the law will create a minimum entitlement, and there’ll be no compulsion to take it. OTOH, bosses will not be able to force people to work without breaks anymore – a prospect which I can see will be deeply concerning to the Hospitality Association’s penny-pinching members. As for the latter, according to the EPMU lack of proper breaks is one of the biggest complaints they get from non-members – which suggests that many employers aren’t ‘working it out’ to the satisfaction of their members.

This law is fundamentally about two things: fairness and dignity. And it is sad to see that our employers, as represented by their membership organisations, do not believe in those values.

As it happens I had a chat to my aunt last night. She works at Heinz Watties in Hastings and recently her job was contracted out to Allied Workforce, a labour-hire company that exists purely to extract excess profits by screwing down the workforce.

Aside from the bullying, harassment and late pay cheques that Allied has become famous for in the Bay, my aunt and her workmates have recently been forced to work six hour shifts on the production line without a break.

It’s this kind of practice that Business NZ and the Hospitality Association are defending, and while most employers are happy to treat their workers with dignity and respect, once again the business lobby is using its resources to defend the abusive practices of our worst employers.

13 comments on “Meal breaks”

  1. Patrick 1

    It is absolutely disgraceful, but totally expected, that the Hospitality Association is trying to block these moves.

    While I’ve never had the misfortune to work in Hospitality myself, from talking to friends who do it seems that 6-8 hour shifts without breaks is very very common.

    This is exactly the sort of thing Labour should be standing up for, and I applaud them for these moves.

  2. illuminatedtiger 2

    I’ll never think the same of Heinz Watties again. Sounds like a fucking sweatshop!

  3. Tim 3

    When I worked washing dishes I used to have to work from 9am to 3pm without a break. I also got my first pay cheque two weeks late and didn’t get payslips for a month. The other hospitality job I had I got paid less than the minimum wage. I was talking to my barista the other day and she doesn’t even get a lunch break.

    Hospitality is an industry where workers are treated poorly and HANZ endorses this. Its opposition is based on a fear that its members might actually have to provide breaks. Why would you even belong to HANZ if its advocacy is limited to asinine statements like “No one is allowed to do anything anymore”? The shallowness of that response shows that HANZ has no cogent reason for opposing the legislation.

  4. higherstandard 4


    I think you may have misquoted Business NZ they’re quoted as below.

    Business NZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly said employers were in favour of adequate meal and rest breaks and provision for breastfeeding mothers but he had not seen any evidence that required a new law.

    “This is a very uncontroversial matter – in thousands of workplaces across the country employers and employees make sensible agreements in their mutual interests without having
    written rules,” he said.

    Mr O’Reilly welcomed the move to allow shift workers to transfer public holidays but said the laws were over-prescriptive.

    To characterise these comments as Business NZ defending the abusive practices of our worst employers is frankly wrong.

  5. Tane 5

    Yes HS, O’Reilly thinks meal breaks etc are a nice idea if you can get them, but he thinks they should be granted to workers as a privelige, not a right.

    His rhetoric about “mutual agreement” is exactly that, rhetoric, and he knows it. As the post above mine (“boohoo”) notes, the imbalance of power in the employment relationship is such that more often than not “mutual agreement” means “take it or leave it”.

    Unless, of course, you’re in a union and have the power to make arrangements with the boss on a more equal footing.

  6. IrishBill 6

    HS, One would expect Business New Zealand to be aware that many members lack decent breaks. Their claim that “This is a very uncontroversial matter” is thus a disingenuous attempt to discredit the law while trying not to appear to be scrooge. I think you probably realise that however, as you are clearly not a fool and it is particularly transparent spin. What I would like to know is why would you choose to try to defend BNZ’s position?

  7. higherstandard 7

    Tane and Irish Bill

    I belong to a Union of sorts myself (ASMS) working in the Public and Private Sector. Where ever I have worked there has been no issue with staff breaks unless emergencies occur.

    My belief is that the vast amount of employers in NZ treat their employees well and give them reasonable and fair breaks.

    I have taken BNZ’s comments at face value rather than choosing to believe that BNZ would want their members not to treat their staff fairly much as I choose to believe that the employer and employee relationship should be mutually beneficial rather than mutually antagonistic.

    IB I pasted my comment previsouly onto the next post as they were on the very same topic – I appologise if this is contrary to the Standard’s usual procedures.

  8. Tane 8

    HS – senior doctors don’t strike me as the most vulnerable workers so I’m not surprised you haven’t had an issue with breaks. Being a union member chances are you also have minimum break entitlements written into your collective and your employer would know that.

    I agree with you that most employers are reasonable about breaks, that’s certainly been my experience. But whether or not you get breaks shouldn’t rely on whether your boss is in a good mood. It should be a basic work right, set out clearly in black and white and enforceable by law.

    O’Reilly isn’t making a genuine argument here, he’s spinning desperately to defend the bad behaviour of his more unscrupulous members.

  9. higherstandard 9


    I guess we’ll just have to disagree on what Business NZ is doing, as in my humble opinion they would want their members to be good employers rather than poor ones.

  10. Tane 10

    HS, I doubt Business NZ wants its members to be bad employers, but it has shown more than once that it is willing to defend the right of bad employers to mistreat their staff.

  11. Tim 11

    I’m not sure about Phil O’Reilly. Why would Business NZ oppose the legislation if it’s not going to affect those employers who already provide breaks? If you support breaks, why oppose laws to enforce them?

    I have to say it’s about time there was legislation for minimum breaks and I’m surprised it has taken Labour so long to introduce it. I can’t understand why Labour has been introducing incomprehensible and largely ineffectual legislation like the Flexible Working Hours Act and some amendments to the Employment Relations Act while this most basic issue has been ignored (although it has done well on the Holidays Act and one or two amendments to the ERA).

    It will be interesting to see what Kate Wilkinson’s position on this is. Probably, “I have no policy and I don’t know what I’m talking about anyway so I’ll just say I support meal breaks but oppose workers and that’s a mutually beneficial solution that will support us going forward in productivity!”

  12. Negotiation simply doesn’t take place within many employment relationships. There needs to be prescriptive legislation to ensure that workers’ human rights are protected. Employers and employees don’t simply “work it out for themeselves”.


    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 ……

    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.

    McLaughlin, C. and Rasmussen, E. (1998) “Freedom of choice’ and flexibility in the retail sector?’, International Journal of Manpower, vol.19, no. 4, pp. 281-292.

  13. Monty 13

    The whole beat up i a desperate attempt by Labour to create a much needed diversion from the real issues affecting NZers such as high interest rates, too much personal tax, increases in te cost of energy prices, the plummeting confidence in the economy and of course the polls that has Labour constantly 25 to 20 points behind.

    This additional cost on employers (usually bad employers) will mena that come the recession (which we are already in the middle of) those workers will be the first to be laid off. I have yet to see an arguement that really justifies this proposal. (is it a bil yet?)

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