First use of the “tea break” law revealed
Cotton On, the Australian retail chain with over 80 stores in New Zealand, has become one of the first companies to try and take advantage of the new “tea break” law says FIRST Union General Secretary Robert Reid.
“Last year the government removed the right to mandatory tea breaks. The Prime Minister reassured New Zealanders that ‘post the passing of this law, will you all of a sudden find thousands of workers who are denied having a tea break? The answer is absolutely not’. We now know the Prime Minister’s assurance was misleading. Cotton On is proposing to remove tea and meal breaks for workers in its safety sensitive distribution centre. How long before other major chains try and follow suit?” asks Robert Reid.
“FIRST Union is negotiating a collective agreement for workers at the Cotton On distribution centre in Auckland. Negotiations began in July last year and both parties agreed to paid tea and meal breaks. But after the government’s law changes came into force Cotton On has submitted a late claim to remove tea and meal breaks. Cotton On is trying to take advantage of a law that was always meant to strip workers of their rights”.
“Breaks are crucial on industrial sites because they keep people safe. Worker fatigue is a risk on an industrial site like the Cotton On distribution centre. Removing breaks increases the risk to workers. After the government’s law changes removing tea and meal breaks is legal, but that does not make it ethical or sensible” says Robert Reid.
“The rationale for removing tea and meal breaks was that some workers do not need them. Cotton On distribution workers not only want their breaks, they need them. Yet this has not stopped Cotton On trying to exploit the new law to its own advantage. This is what the government always intended, an economy where our competitive advantage is poor working conditions”.
“Cotton On distribution centre workers and FIRST Union will resist this change and industrial action seems likely on this and a number of other matters that have been unilaterally changed by Cotton On in a draft collective agreement following the last set of negotiations,” says Robert Reid.