When a tea break is not a tea break

Tea breaks were in the news recently when the National Government's anti-worker laws changed.  The Meat Industry Association that represents most meat companies supported the changes to "more flexible rest and meal breaks".  The latest  Employment Authority decision between the NZMWU and Lean Meats shows just what can happen when proper breaks are substituted with "compensatory measures" instead of a proper break.

The company has been ordered to pay its workers for unpaid tea breaks after the company failed to provide paid rest breaks which it had agreed to in its employment agreement.

Lean Meats refuted the claims, saying the money owing to its workers had already been paid, because the paid tea break had been "specifically incorporated" into the hourly rate.  

The Employment Relations Authority found there was insufficient evidence proving the amount owed had been included in hourly pay.  It ruled in the union's favour and ordered Lean Meats to pay for their workers' meal breaks and overtime. 

Proper breaks are important in the meat industry.  It's not just about a cup of tea.  It's about health and safety, but breaks have been getting shorter as hygiene requirements for wash up increase.

The NZ Meat Workers Union is currently surveying members throughout the industry to find out what is happening in the different sheds throughout New Zealand.

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