Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Meals and Rest Breals’ Category

All Blacks

Posted by on October 11th, 2011

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Campaign team meeting the other day. Great biscuits for morning tea.


It’s about Time

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

I have had a wonderful holiday this year as I hope you did if you had time off.  I really enjoyed  having more time to do things that get squeezed during the working year. Time to spend with family and friends, time to be alone, time to walk , to read and to reflect.  I am sure as we made our resolutions for 2011 or reflected on the year ahead many of us thought about spending more time on things other than work and trying to achieve better balance in our lives. 

In my previous role as CTU Secretary I led our work on the issue of work life balance.  In 2004 we produced a publication called ‘It’s about Time’ which looked at the issues around people achieving balance between paid and unpaid work, family and personal time. (You can find a copy on the CTU website www.union.org.nz).  New Zealand has very long working hours compared to many other OECD countries. For low and middle income earners these long hours are often driven by low wages.  Many workers on the minimum wage or just above it work more than one job to try and earn enough to make ends meet.  Long working hours are not solely caused by low wages as can be seen by long hours worked by those earning high salaries.  Work intensification is a well documented phenomena – less people doing the same or more work.  Not by working smarter but by having to work harder and longer. 

Currently there are many New Zealanders with too much non- working time, – the huge number of unemployed and the less well recognised numbers of underemployed.  This lack of paid work is a fundamental problem as it impacts on people’s ability to survive financially.

Time pressures and lack of balance can have major implications for people’s health, their relationships,their ability to participate in community activity or to contribute to their community in a voluntary capacity (a real problem identified by many organisations).

Dealing with this issue has many dimensions.  These include – lifting wages; adequate leave provisions (domestic leave, parental leave, holidays, study leave, unpaid leave); limitations on working hours  (NZ is very unregulated in this area); recognising and valuing unpaid work;  changing workplace cultures and real flexibility in working arrangements (flexibility in the context of secure quality work, not the one sided flexibility  in the many precarious working arrangements that becoming increasingly common).  In ‘It’s about Time’ a number of very practical and positive examples of such arrangements negotiated between unions and employers are provided.  These can vary from quite small changes at work eg ensuring employees can access a phone, to arrangements to reduce work hours (temporarily or permanently) or to have greater flexibility regarding  working hours or work location through to additional leave provisions (above statutory provisions). 

There was good progress made by the last Labour government, for example -  paid parental leave, legislating for a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave, legislating around the flexible working hours (something the unlamented Pansy Wong claimed credit for National even though they voted against this!), requiring rest and meal breaks and regular increases in the minimum wage.

In two years of this National government we have gone backwards fast.  Not only has there been no focus on improving the quality of working life but in fact there has been an ideologically driven attack on holidays and rest and meal breaks.  From 1 April this year it will be possible to sell the 4th week of annual leave.  Sadly leave will be sold not because most people want less annual leave but because of financial pressures.  It is tough financially for low and middle income New Zealanders. 

Labour is already showing that we will continue assisting people achieve balance in their lives by indicating that we will look at enhancing paid parental leave as part of a comprehensive focus on child development.  This would be a very positive move for families and for society by increasing the chances of parents having quality time to bond with their babies.

The benefits of creating opportunities for people to better balance paid work with family, unpaid work, studying, taking part in community activities and helping others are wide ranging.  This includes to individuals, to their  children and other dependents, to employers by ensuring better recruitment and retention of a broader pool of employees and to the community as people can participate in the sporting, cultural, service, religious and other organisations that make up our society.  For lifelong learning to be the norm we need this sort of flexibility too.

I believe this is an important debate to have.  It is about our quality of life.   An ageing population makes it imperative and adds new dimensions to the issue,  for example the increasing number of people trying to care for children or grandchildren and ageing parents, or the needs of older workers who will want or be expected to be in the workforce for longer and who will have particular limits on their time at (paid) work.  This is also an important issue whether or not a person has caring responsibilities.  The demands on peoples time vary throughout their life.  For example a young person without children may want flexibility to finish a qualification or travel or play competitive sport as well as being in paid work.

We are all probably aware of people who regret that they didn’t do certain things during their life, commonly many people regret  that they didn’t spend more time with their family.  I don’t think that when people look back on their lives there are many who regret that they didn’t spend more time in paid work.  A very interesting piece of research by an Australian academic, Barbara Pocock, shows quite clearly that what children want most is quality time with their parents. 

It’s about Time!


Labour Day or Halloween?

Posted by on October 25th, 2010

It’s leading up to Halloween in Ottawa and the kids are already out on the streets in some pretty impressive costumes. Older kids have painted their faces black or ash grey with dripping faux blood and are parading about the town. While I feel irritated that Halloween was imported to NZ as another commercial opportunity to cash in on, I am amused that an ancient pre-Christian rite has become mainstream.

labor-dayMeanwhile it’s Labour Day in New Zealand. Now I do care about that and what it stands for.

I hope while people are enjoying the day off (at least those who get a day off) will remember that Labour Day is about Samuel Parnell’s struggle for an eight-hour working day.

Irony is there’s no longer any eight hour day regulation in NZ anymore (apart from an old reference in the Minimum Wage Age that a truck could be driven through.

In fact there is almost no NZ regulation around working hours, apart from the meals and rest breaks legislation, which National is in the process of decimating and paid leave laws, which are also under attack.

Canada celebrates Labo(u)r Day in September.  It goes back to 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organised Canada’s first significant demonstration for worker’s rights to demand the release of the 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were imprisoned for striking to campaign for a nine-hour working day.

Difference is that like  most other developed countries, Canada still has working time regulation including an 8 hour day, with provisions for flexibility and extended hours provided overtime is paid.  Mealbreaks apply after five hours and there are prescribed periods of rest between shifts. Workers must receive at least 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week, or at least 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks.

So I’m happy to give Halloween a miss (if I can hide) and celebrate the day that reminds us that workers’ rights issues are still out there and needing attention.


Gimme a break

Posted by on September 25th, 2010

The Rest and Meal breaks amendment bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday from the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee.

What a joke.

The NACTs might as well have just repealed Labour’s 2008 Act, because their Bill all but guts it.

Why is having a break enshrined in law such a big deal for the government?  Surely the right to rest and meal breaks is pretty basic?

I was on the select committee that heard evidence in Labour’s 2008 Act and then National’s 2010 bill.  Having decent and safe work in New Zealand is something a first world country like ours shouldn’t be afraid of, but apparently that’s just too hard.

So, the Government is ploughing ahead with a Bill that means employers can refuse breaks. There can be ‘compensatory measures’,  but goodness knows what that means, because the Bill remains murky about that. I see another bonanza coming for lawyers.

I can’t understand why any government would want to promote a law that could require workers to work for nothing. I thought slavery had been abolished.

Gimme a break.


Unimaginable – removing the right to have a rest or meal break

Posted by on August 5th, 2010

At the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee today CTU President Helen Kelly gave a strong challenge in her oral submission.   She rightly stated that it is unimaginable that a Government would remove the right to something as fundamental as the right to have a break during the working day.  Yet this is what National is doing. 

Essentially there is a removal of rights by creating the following regime – rest and meal breaks will be taken at times agreed by employees and employers but in the absence of such agreement it must be at a reasonable time or duration as specified by the employer.  The removal in this Bill of a statutory minimum means that there is no standard below which agreement cannot fall – anything is possible as long as it is agreed.  In the absence of agreement the only protection in relation to imposition by the employer is that it should be “reasonable” however the Bill provides that employers can specify reasonable times and durations that, having regard to the operational environment or resources and the employees interests, enable the continuity of service or production.   

Helen Kelly also pointed out that the changes proposed in this Bill must be seen in the context of other changes.  For example how strong will a worker’s bargaining position be around meal and rest breaks when for the first ninety days of their employment they can be sacked without reason or redress (except in cases of discrimination).   If the employer thinks theyare not being flexible enough about having (or not having) a break watch out!  If they want advice about their rights they won’t necessarily be able to see a union representative at work given the proposed change to the access provisions.

I am not suggesting this is how most employers will behave but legal minimums are to provide protections for the most vulnerable.  Furthermore in competitive industries good employers can face pressure if bad employees employers cut costs by exploiting  workers.


A muffin or a bottle of wine with your free labour?

Posted by on June 17th, 2010

Interesting day at the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee today as we heard submissions on Kate Wilkinson’s Rest and Mealbreaks amendment bill.

The Bill enables employers to place restrictions on breaks, such as requiring a worker to be on call or perform duties, but the Government seems to have overlooked that in many workplaces, a half hour meal break is unpaid. 

Under this bill workers could be required to provide free labour and to forfeit breaks for whatever the employer decides they should be compensated with.

The provision of ‘compensatory measures’ for where a break is not provided is wide open to interpretation, and my questioning of officials today confirmed that a compensatory measure could be as little as a muffin.

One submitter told the committee that a compensatory measure could be a bottle of wine.

I guess that’s a little better than a muffin – but not much.


Maori Party votes against workers rights

Posted by on April 29th, 2010

The Maori Party just voted with National and Act on gutting the meals and restbreaks legislation that Labour brought in in 2008. 

I don’t get it.   The Maori Party says it stands up for the vulnerable and the powerless.  They make fine speeches about it all the time.   During the debate on the get the sack in 90 days bill, Pita Sharples said :

 Our policy for workers is to support, uphold and extend their rights – particularly to make workplaces and work legislation more worker and whanau friendly,” said Co-leader Dr Pita Sharples.

Well, this bill actually takes away the rights of workers to a break at work, unless the employer agrees and even then, the break could be one minute long.   It makes the workplace less worker and whanau friendly, and it makes the workplace less safe.

The day after we remembered the 6000 New Zealand workers who have been killed or injured on the job, a bill that will ensure that health and safety is compromised has been supported by the Maori Party. 

This will particularly affect the vulnerable and the powerless – the non-unionised, small workplaces, the low-paid and the marginalised.

I’m confused, but I’m also disappointed.  When it comes to workers’ rights, I’m happy to have allies wherever we can find them in this parliament, but I’m left guessing about the Maori Party.