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Friday, June 18

Wilkinson’s muffin break no joke for workers

Workers face being required by employers to work though rest breaks for no extra wages under a Government Bill currently before select committee, Labour’s Associate Labour spokesperson Darien Fenton said today.

“Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson’s Meals and Rest Breaks Amendment Bill is designed to offer employers more ‘flexibility’. This includes giving employers the power to make employees work through meal breaks even though in many workplaces workers are not paid for meal breaks,” Darien Fenton said.

“No-one would have an issue with the need for flexibility in some cases as long as employers were required to pay reasonable compensation in return.

“But the Bill says employers would not be expected to financially compensate workers for giving up their breaks, and that is not fair.

“Instead, as government officials confirmed at the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee today – and which Ms Wilkinson did not rule out later – employees might feel inclined to reward workers with as little as a ‘muffin’ for giving up their meal breaks,” Darien Fenton said.

“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. 

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

“So what we have now is a proposed law where workers could be required to provide free labour and to forfeit breaks for whatever the employer decides they should be compensated with.

“One submitter said that a compensatory measure could be a bottle of wine. 
 
“While that’s a step up from a muffin, this bill is seriously flawed and needs to be revisited by the Minister.
 
"After all, there's no such thing as a free lunch Minister," Darien Fenton said.