Your Rights, Your Breaks
By Diane Kirk & Veronica Buckley
We all need breaks while we’re at work. Our jobs are busy and demanding as there’s always so much to do, Sometimes it feels as though we’re doing the work of two or even three people.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, it is important we take our breaks.
Our legal entitlements contain specific provisions that require us to have breaks. They detail our rights to rest breaks and meal breaks.
Why have Breaks?
It seems a silly question, but the fact of the matter is that we are humans, not robots.
Rest is necessary for our health – if we don’t take our breaks we put undue stress on our bodies. Our bodies need breaks so we can replenish fluids, eat and have a chance to relax from the pressures and routines of what we are doing.
It is for these very reasons that the SDA fought for these entitlements decades ago and they are one of the legacies our predecessors in the SDA left us.
Breaks are not optional.
You have an absolute right to take them as set out in your Enterprise Agreement or Modern Award. This is not a privilege – it is your right and it is also a major health and safety issue.
Employers must not:
- deny employees their breaks because there are not enough employees;
- tell their employees they have to take their breaks at the end of their shift;
- require an employee to work through their break;
- only give you your 30 minute or 60 minute unpaid meal break and not your paid rest break as well;
- require an employee who has gone off on their break to come back to work; or
- reduce the length of an employee’s break to a period less than provided for in their Enterprise Agreement or Modern Award.
Do you get a break?
Some of the reasons and excuses employees give for not taking their entitled break are:
- Inadequate staffing levels or poor rostering by management. These include no one being rostered to replace employees on breaks; it being so busy that the employee feels guilty leaving their co-workers; or employees being told the budget does not allow for extra staff.
- Worried about losing hours. This is often a concern for casuals, but if you think about it, hours would have to be increased to cover proper breaks.
Staying within the company budget is not your problem. Do not feel guilty. Your employer should and must employ adequate staff to ensure that you are given a toilet break or the correct number of breaks at the appropriate time.
As an SDA member, you cannot get into trouble, be dismissed or victimised for insisting on taking your correct breaks.
For more information, please ring or email the union office.