Small businesses welcome law on work breaks

By Brooke Donovan

Businesses are surprised by new laws requiring meal and rest breaks for workers and breastfeeding breaks for new mums - but say it's business as usual.

Employers and shop managers spoken to by the Herald said they were surprised that laws weren't already in place around the provision of meal breaks for workers.

The Employment Relations Act 2000 Amendment Bill was passed by Parliament yesterday with 12 other bills being considered under urgency.

It requires all employers to provide workers with a 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks in a standard eight-hour shift.

The 30-minute break is unpaid, the 10-minute ones paid.

And where "reasonable and practicable", companies must provide facilities and resources for new mothers to breastfeed or express milk.

Most employment contracts include provisions for rest and meal breaks but until now there has been no compulsion under the law for employers to provide them.

MP Steve Chadwick, who introduced a private member's bill on breastfeeding breaks to Parliament this year, said the legislation sanctioned the social acceptability of working mothers feeding their babies or expressing milk in private.

"It's a win-win for mothers' choice and infants' right to nutrition," she said.

"Some critics may say this legislation is unnecessary, but it protects vulnerable workers and, indirectly, their children."

Breastfeeding mums weren't an issue at any of the small businesses visited by the Herald, but all said it was something they would happily work with if the situation arose.

But all said meal and rest breaks were already part of employment contracts.

Greg Cain, partner at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts and blogger on employment law for nzherald.co.nz, said the new rules would not make much difference to the vast majority of New Zealand businesses.

Breaks were already provided for in employment contracts and even those who did not have contracts had informal arrangements in place.

The breastfeeding rules, which were required under international law, did not have "much teeth" given the reference to reasonable and practicable steps.

"But it's the only way to do it. You can't tell every business in New Zealand that they must set aside facilities for breastfeeding but there will now be penalties if you can do it and don't."

He said facilities for breastfeeding mums were not specified in the law but covered things like a separate room with lockable door, changing table and somewhere to sit.

Matthew Pryor, manager of Peter Alexander clothing store in central Auckland, said he had presumed the rules were already in legislation.

"It makes sense to introduce it as law if it isn't already because it gives rights to the people who don't already have them," he said. "But I would have thought it was a case of basic rights just like providing tea, coffee and milk."

While there were no breastfeeding mums working there, Mr Pryor said it was something smaller businesses would "just have to work around".

Ian Henderson, owner of Tony's Lord Nelson restaurant, said his 20 staff were covered by the Restaurant Association's employment contract which allowed for similar breaks to those now set out in legislation.

"We have some flexibility such as not taking breaks during busy times but it goes both ways," said Mr Henderson. "We'll keep them on for half an hour at the end of the night if it's been a busy one ... but we'll make sure it's made up for with the appropriate breaks."

Similarly, at Kebab Time on Victoria St, manager Serkan Demiray said the five staff there enjoyed more breaks than the new minimum.

"They get at least 20 minutes for a break but they mostly only work a few hours at a time so it's pretty flexible."

Sharon Cole, deputy chief commissioner of the Families Commission, said it was vital to give new mothers wanting to return to work the support and conditions to do so.

"It's about enabling women to balance their work and family life and we think that's absolutely critical," said Ms Cole. She added it would see the end of women being banished to toilets or other "inappropriate places" to express.

THE RULES

* One 10-minute break for two to four hours' work.
* One 10-minute break and one 30-minute break for four to six hours' work.
* Two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute break for six to eight hours' work.
* For more than eight hours, the rules apply again.
* Where reasonable and practicable, facilities and adequate breaks must be provided to allow mothers to breastfeed or express milk.

- NZ Herald

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