A bill currently going through parliament could see workers required to be available to work during breaks- if they get breaks at all. There has been legislation for rest and meal breaks for just four years. Prior to the Employment Contracts Act breaks were covered not by law but by industry wide agreements negotiated by unions.
Council of Trade Unions policy analyst Eileen Brown told Fairfax reporters that adequate breaks were a basic employment right, and essential for the health and safety of workers. “A break is a break – there should be quite clear time off for a break. We don’t agree that having a break means you are still available to work.”
Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the bill made it clear that, if an employer asked a worker to keep up their work duties, it had to be a reasonable request – and it had to be necessary to the work, or agreed to by both the employer and the employee. But of course this ignores the power imbalance between workers and employers, particularly workers not covered by union agreements