No more smoko break? Cotton On challenges tea breaks for distribution centre

Retail giant Cotton On has become the first company in New Zealand to try and take advantage of the new "tea break law", a union says.

Cotton On

The Australian retail chain is looking to remove compulsory tea and meal breaks for its workers at their distribution centre in Auckland following the passing of the controversial Employment Relations Amendment Bill in October.

The bill changed workers' entitlements to rest and meal breaks and allows employers to walk away from collective bargaining.

Cotton On's new proposal has been slammed by First Union who had been negotiating a collective agreement with Cotton On since July last year over its employees breaks.

Both parties had originally agreed to paid meal breaks every five hours and a rest break for 15 minutes every four hours worked.

However, once the Government's law change to tea breaks came into force the company submitted a late claim to remove tea and meal breaks for its employees at the Auckland centre.

The company has handed First Union the collective agreement back with meal breaks crossed out from the agreement adding that "employees shall be entitled to observe, and where applicable be paid, rest and meal breaks in accordance with the ERA".

"What has been crossed out (by the company) had already been agreed and is currently what is happening," General Secretary for First Union Robert Reid

"But 'in accordance with the Act' is that it has to be negotiated, which it was, but has now been removed."

He says the proposal to remove breaks is dangerous for the company's employees.

"Worker fatigue is a risk on an industrial site like the Cotton On distribution centre. Removing breaks increases the risk to workers.

"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.

"Cotton On is trying to take advantage of a law that was always meant to strip workers of their rights," says Mr Reid.

First Union and the centre workers' are planning to resist the change and take industrial action against the company.

ONE News is contacted Cotton On for a response.