Legislation on employees’ rest and meal breaks and trial periods which passed into law in December has now come into force. Among other changes, it means that staff are now entitled to paid rest breaks and an unpaid meal break, and only businesses with 19 or fewer employees can use 90-day trial periods.
Meal and rest breaks
The new legislation effectively overturns National’s 2014 reforms which removed workers’ rights to set rest and meal breaks throughout their shifts in favour of an unspecified “appropriate duration”.
From today, employees are entitled to paid 10-minute rest breaks and unpaid 30-minute meal breaks. For a standard eight hour workday, staff are entitled to two 10-minute paid rest breaks and one 30-minute meal break. See the below table for a complete breakdown of eligibility.
|Hours worked||2 – 4||4 – 6||6 – 10||10 – 14||14 – 16|
|10-minute paid rest breaks||1x||1x||2x||3x||4x|
|30-minute unpaid meal breaks||1x||1x||1x||2x|
These breaks will need to be taken at a time agreed upon by employers and employees. If no agreement can be found, they will need to be taken at specific times as specified in the Employment Relations Amendment Act. Mediation services are available.
90-day trial periods are now restricted to businesses with 19 or fewer employees. Staff must voluntarily sign the agreement stating a 90-day trial period is being used before starting work, and understand what it means. If an employee works beyond the 90-day trial period without being dismissed, they automatically keep their job.
Those with 20 or more can continue to use probationary periods.
The adult minimum wage rose to $17.70 per hour on April 1. New legal protections for those affected by domestic violence were also introduced on the same date.
Reinstatement must now be the first course of action considered by the Employment Relations Authority, if it’s requested by an employee found to be unfairly dismissed.
Employees in specified vulnerable industries will be able to transfer their current contract terms and conditions. Retail isn’t currently classed as a vulnerable industry, but new categories of employees can now apply to receive these protections to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety.
Union activity also sees a swathe of changes, which cover collective bargaining and collective agreement. The full list can be viewed here, but among the changes includes boosted employee protections against discrimination for union membership, the provision of reasonable paid time for union delegates to carry out union activities, and allowing for union representatives to enter workplaces without consent.