Restaurant owner speaks out over new break laws

The owner of a Thai restaurant has criticised the Government’s changes to laws regarding break times, saying they don’t work for small businesses. From next month, all workers will be allowed a ten-minute break after two hours of work and, after four hours, a half-hour break. Under the previous iteration of the Employment Relations Act, the employer was allowed to dictate when workers took breaks and was only require to offer ‘reasonable breaks’.

However, the hospitality sector has opposed the changes. Restaurant owner Charn Tiebtienrat said that the policy has been “implemented by people who have never owned a business and have no clue how business is run.”

“If [staff] are required to have a ten-minute break every two hours it could be hard for us to operate because during busy times, everyone needs to go the job so that every customer gets served promptly,”

“Right now, my staff take turns to have their break when the restaurant starts to get quiet, then they will go inside and eat. We provide free meals.”

Bill Hodge, from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law, said that the rules were made with big businesses in mind.

"I don't think Labour really understands, or fails to take into account that the vast majority are small employers struggling with the minimum number of staff,” he said. “If they have to disappear for ten minutes in the morning and in the afternoon, it could mean shutting up shop.”

Hospitality advocate Chloe King, who organises the Raise the Bar campaign, said she was not hopeful for any significant change.

“Hospitality employers often under-staff to save on wages which means those who are working have to work twice as hard and negotiation for breaks never happens,” she said. “I've worked up to 15 hours with maybe a 10-minute break and that is fairly commonplace. I personally think it is more likely that hospitality employers will breach the minimum standards of employment around breaks than actually close their doors.”