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New rest break and breast feeding laws
Monday 30 March 2009, 11:16AM
By Department of Labour

A new law that provides rest and meal breaks for all workers and breaks and facilities for infant feeding in the workplace comes into effect next week.

The new provisions are contained in the Employment Relations (Rest Breaks, Infant Feeding and Other Matters) Amendment Act passed by Parliament in September 2008 and which comes into effect on 1 April.

The legislation requires employers to provide employees with paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks. Employees will be entitled to:

* one paid 10-minute rest break if their work period is between two and four hours;
* one paid 10-minute rest break and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is between four and six hours;
* two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is between six and eight hours.

Where employees work for periods longer than eight hours, these provisions automatically reapply to each succeeding work period.

Employees and employers can agree on when breaks are to be taken. Where such agreement can’t be reached, the breaks should be spread evenly throughout the work period where reasonable and practicable.

While many employers already provide rest and meal breaks that meet these new minimum requirements, employers should still review their rosters and ensure they are consistent with the new law, says Department of Labour head of employment relations Craig Armitage. “That is particularly important for organisations that operate continuously, such as hospitals and some manufacturing and service enterprises.”

He says the new law has considerable flexibility to ensure minimum disruption to business operations, as it allows employers and employees to agree on the timing of rest breaks. The new law does not stipulate where breaks must be taken. Rest breaks can be taken on-site or off-site as appropriate.

The new legislation also requires employers to provide appropriate breaks and facilities for employees who want to breastfeed or express in the workplace where reasonable or appropriate in the circumstances. Employers are able to take into account operational requirements and the availability of resources when negotiating arrangements with their employees.

While providing facilities might incur minor costs for some employers, Mr Armitage says most solutions can be simple and practical.

The Department of Labour is developing a Code of Employment Practice which will provide guidance for employers on how to comply with their obligations regarding the infant feeding provisions of the Act. The Code will be published following consultation with relevant groups and once it has been approved by the Minister of Labour.

Further information is available on the Department’s website INDEX