Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One more thing

I do still have one more thing to say about tea breaks. I should have mentioned in my last post that government legislation won't necessarily change the problem with getting breaks. The main reason employers don't like breaks, is that in order for some workers to take breaks you need other workers to cover those breaks. There are many industries (including white collar places where people eat lunch at their desk), where systemic under-staffing is a central way that the employers make their profit.

Legislation won't change that. If you work in a cafe and its Saturday morning, but there are only two people on at the counter, then neither of them are going to take a break, because that just mean the orders back up and youhave to work twice as hard on the other side, then many workers are just going to ignore their breaks. Likewise if you work in an office, and you can't go home till the project is done, then you might eat lunch at your desk so you can leave at seven rather than seven thirty, however much you want or need half an hour away from the office.

It's not legislation which makes a difference in workplaces like these, it's strong union organising.

100 years ago coal-miners struck for their break. The 'left-wing' version of New Zealand history says this strike was the beginning of a movement that climaxed with the election of the first labour government in the 1930s (the left-wing version of history was always inaptly named, and written well before the fourth labour government). The move from industrial action to political power wasn't a glorious one, but a step backwards. Breaks will always be better protected by unions than by legislation.


  1. Anonymous6:19 pm

    Maia - Most employers like their staff to take breaks, If people work for much over 2 hours without a break they are useless, if they work for more than 10 hours a day they are useless.

    There is no point in paying people if they are not productive.

    Thats the economics bit.

    Most employers do care about their staff and look after them. Staff become workplace friends, staff are looked after because without them there is no business.

    The few businesses that shit on their employers struggle because their staff work like shit. It all comes down to human nature. Most people like to be good to other people.

  2. Anonymous6:25 pm

    I surprised that there was no law governing smoko and lunch breaks. I do think that it is necessary to have minimum workplace work conditions enshrined in law. Most employers do look after their staff, unfortunately there are some fuckwits who should never be allowed to employ people, animals or themselves.

  3. Most employers like their staff to take breaks, If people work for much over 2 hours without a break they are useless, if they work for more than 10 hours a day they are useless.

    David, you have a different world experience than I. I've worked in shops, and in the rural sector. As a thirteen year old I was working a nine hour day with a twenty-minute lunch break (illegal, for that age group). As a farm worker I have, and regularly still do, work up to fourteen hours a day during busy seasons, sometimes with breaks, every once in a while without. As a fruit picker I worked orchards during a nine hour day with half an hour for lunch and no handwashing/toiletting facilities - you sat down among the trees to eat what you'd brought, and hung on to your bladder till you got home.

    Maia raises valid points with this issue, and I find it disappointing that commenters (on this post and the previous one) feel the need to discount them.
    In the rural sector, I've had friends who've done 36-hour shifts - from dawn through dark to dark again, tractor-driving (including on public roads).
    There is legislation in place to allow these conditions for seasonal industries - doesn't make it right, but it's recognition of the difficulties of having enough employees when the main workload is concentrated into a few weeks or months.