July 24 2014, updated 4:34pm

Staying abreast of workplace law

Changes will also give workers a meal break

Last updated 01:11 24/03/2008

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Employers would have to provide breast-feeding spaces for working mothers under proposed workplace laws that also set in stone minimum meal and rest breaks for all workers.

Proposed legislation, aimed at "vulnerable workers and breastfeeding mothers", were announced yesterday. Labour Minister Trevor Mallard and his Cabinet colleague Maryan Street announced the moves at the centenary commemorations of the 1908 Blackball miners' strike over meal breaks.

It will set in law for the first time the requirement that employers provide at least two minimum breaks of 10 minutes in an eight-hour shift, and a half-hour unpaid meal break.

A change would also be made to the Holidays Act to allow the transfer of public holidays for someone who worked a shift that crossed the hour of midnight on a public holiday. Some workers have been made to finish at midnight then split the shift to restart 24 hours later.

Breastfeeding would be promoted by requiring employers to provide, "where reasonable and practicable", facilities as well as breaks for employees who wished to breastfeed, Mr Mallard said. A code of practice would be introduced to the Employment Relations Act, specifying conditions.

"Often there is an expectation that the only private place in a building is a toilet and that's just not good enough."

He said flexibility would be built into the code allowing for smaller workplaces with few female staff, but workplaces with many female staff would be expected to step up.

Breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League welcomed the new provisions, which would enable more mothers to breastfeed till their baby was six months old - as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Breastfeeding drop-off rates are high. A lack of flexibility in the workplace - particularly for low-wage returning mothers - was a contributing factor, La Leche League director Barbara Sturmfels said.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Carol Beaumont, who welcomed the moves, said research had showed 86 per cent of employers were happy to provide time off or space for breastfeeding, but few staff believed this was the case.

"Time and access to facilities will be a welcome step for breastfeeding mums at work, and brings New Zealand into line with 92 other countries."

Ms Street added 93 per cent of active collective agreements provided for rest and meal breaks but anecdotal evidence suggested some workplaces - particularly in the service and manufacturing sectors - were providing less than optimal breaks.

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The law rewrite means a working doing a standard eight-hour day will be entitled to a minimum of two 10-minute paid rest breaks and a half hour unpaid meal break.

If existing employment agreement have more generous entitlements, these will apply.

Meanwhile, the legislation introducing minimum meal breaks would help low-paid staff on individual contracts, who were being denied breaks by bosses, she said.

National MP Kate Wilkinson said both policies appeared reasonable, but more detail was needed.

-with NZPA

- The Dominion Post

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