Meat workers 'horrified' by National's proposal to change law around workers' lunch breaks

National leader Judith Collins on Thursday announced the party's small business policy.
National leader Judith Collins on Thursday announced the party's small business policy. Photo credit: Getty

Meat workers are outraged at a National Party proposal that would take away legally mandated lunch breaks for workers.

National leader Judith Collins on Thursday announced the party's small business policy, outlining a plan to "empower small businesses to grow, thrive and succeed". 

Among other things, the plan proposed scrapping 90-day trials for businesses with more than 20 employees and overturning rules brought in last year mandating rest and meal breaks for employees.

Those rules, which came into law under the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, stipulated how often workers were legally allowed to take breaks and overturned changes made in 2014 by the previous National-led Government which took away workers' rights to have rest and meal breaks at regular intervals, instead making them "at the times and for the duration agreed between employee and his or her employer". According to the previous law, if no agreement was reached, breaks only had to be "at the reasonable times and for the reasonable duration specified by the employer".

Collins said if National is voted into Government in this year's general election, the party would repeal the Government's changes to the Employment Relations Act. 

"National believes in a flexible, productive workplace where workers get a fair deal and businesses are productive. National supports an approach where employees and employers are trusted to work employment matters out themselves in good faith," the party's plan said.

But in a statement on Friday, the New Zealand Meat Workers Union said it was "horrified" by National's "meanspritied and backwards proposal to remove breaks, including lunch breaks".

"Working people have fought long and hard for fair breaks and welcomed the return to scheduled breaks under Labour's amendments to the Employment Relations Act. National's proposal to take smoko and lunchtime away from people is absurd and out of touch," said Daryl Carran, the union's national secretary.

"Our members have fought and won in the courts for fair payment for breaks including a vital decision that putting on and removing PPE gear (donning and doffing) is part of paid time.

 "We're shocked that these tired old arguments have made a comeback in National."

Carran said meatworks had managed to have only a "handful of COVID cases" during the coronavirus pandemic in large part because it was recognised that strict protocols around the wearing and safe removal of personal protective equipment, social distancing and scheduled breaks were the best way to manage fatigue and health risks among workers.

"We cannot understand why the National Party, supposedly the party for agriculture, has not even bothered to acquaint themselves with this," Carran said.