Is there a problem?

Like many, I have absolutely no problem with the proposition that employees working a full eight hours should have a meal break and a couple of (paid) rest breaks.  And the same goes for allowing breastfeeding at work.

What I am not sure about is whether there is enough of a problem, that legislation is needed, as announced by the Government.

I can’t recall an employment contract for FT staff which does not include meal breaks and rest breaks. Whether employees take them is another matter. At Wellington Newspapers the “tea lady” literally would come around and everyone would have a break. At Red Cross we actually gathered in the staff room and our ten minute breaks sometimes stretched on to half an hour as the conversation was always so good.

At Parliament though, there was no communal tea breaks, and even the meal breaks would often end up as 10 minutes at your desk with sandwiches as you continued to work.  However that was by choice, and generally you were treated as an adult to manage your own time so if one disappeared for a two hour lunch or a 45 minute coffee at Astoria, no one complained so long as you got the job done.

I’d be interested in knowing how many complaints have employment authorities had over an employer not allowing meal or tea breaks? Also is there any case law so to speak from employment tribunals that such breaks must be provided even if not in an employment contract?

Like I said, I have no problem with making it explicit in law, but is a problem that needs solving?

As for at work, I ask the same question? Has there ever been a complaint filed with an employment authority that an employer told an employee she can’t take a few minutes off to express, or to feed their babies if they are brought into work?

The employers I know tend to be like most people in society, and go ga-ga when someone has their babies in at work, and they’ll happily queue up for the right to hold the baby, and talk baby talk to it.

So again I just ask is there a problem which needs solving.  Certainly not all employers are good employers, but has there been reported problems in area?

The one area I have some concern over the announced requirement to set aside breastfeeding facilities. Big corporates will have no problems doing this, and probably already are. But what about the dairy owner or the small business owner with just four staff. The cost of putting in place a facility that may never be used could be considerable. Will all 100,000+ employers in NZ be audited over the adequacy of their facilities by a new inspection unit?

The proposed law should certainly be sent through to select committee for scrutiny. But it would be worth asking for proof of the extent of the problem that law is “solving”, and most of all with regard to the facilities, a caution that a legislated requirement doesn’t end up with costs well in excess of any benefits.

I have a suspicion that if there was a widespread problem with employees not getting meal breaks and being banned from breast feeding, we would have seen action before Labour’s ninth year of office, hence may be about a sound good solution looking for a problem. Having said that, that doesn’t mean the legislation is necessarily without merit.

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