Letter to Minister on abuse of breaks law

21 Nov

Michael Woodhouse
Minister of Labour
Parliament Buildings

20 November 2014

Dear Mr Woodhouse,

Yesterday I received a concerning email from one of our union members.

It stated that:

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

This is a direct consequence of the recently passed rest breaks legislation.

You have stated through the media that these law changes were aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights. You said that you saw it applying in situations such as a sole operator at a petrol-station, sole-charge air traffic controllers at small airports, or nurses on a night shift.

You also said that employees and employers would be able to negotiate their rest breaks.

“I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome.”

This law has not even come into effect yet and already this legislation has been used as an excuse to take advantage of workers at a hotel in Auckland. These workers are not sole-charge. This is not a small employer. This is a well-known nationwide brand. These workers do an incredibly physical job all day involving heaving lifting, bending, pushing and pulling. Many of these workers are on work visas, many do not speak English as a first language.

These workers were not given the chance to negotiate their breaks. They were simply told during a morning staff briefing that their breaks were changing from now on and they were to work almost an entire shift without a rest break. Even if they were able to negotiate their breaks how could they do this successfully given that they are already in a vulnerable position, being that many are migrant workers?

This is the direct consequence of the law change you supported. This is the first example. We expect there will be many, many more.

I have some questions for you Minister.

a) Is this the actual intended effect for this legislation, do you think this is fair and reasonable?

b) Do you think this is reasonable in terms of an employers’ responsibility regarding the health and safety of these workers?

c) How do you suggest workers go about negotiating their tea breaks with their employer, especially non-union workers?

d) Do you have any further advice for these workers?

Mr Woodhouse, I am eager to discuss the effects of this law change with you further. Would you be willing to meet with us and a delegation of our union members?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Shanna Reeder
Hotels Organiser
Unite Union
029 44 55 703

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