Historic ruling over employee breaks

The Federal Court has ruled that workers have a legal right to toilet breaks and to drink water while at the workplace

Historic ruling over employee breaks

In a historic decision, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled that workers have a legal right to toilet breaks and to drink water while at the workplace.

Justice John Logan of the Federal Court handed down the much-anticipated judgement in Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) Incorporated & Anor v Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd.

The RAFFWU brought the case on behalf of Chiara Staines who worked for Tantex, a McDonald's franchisee in Queensland.

The union alleged the company was not allowing workers 10-minute paid breaks for shifts over four hours, as they were owed under the company's enterprise agreement.

They stated the workers were subject to “cruel and inhumane” conditions if denied a break in a work environment that was “stressful and demanding, physically and mentally”.

Justice Logan said that it didn’t makes sense for state workplace health and safety laws to require employers to provide bathrooms and drinking facilities, but not let staff use them when it was a reasonable time to go.

"For an employee just to dash off for a drink leaving hamburger patties or fries to burn might not be reasonable," Justice Logan said.

He added that the “right to access the toilet or a drink of water was, in my view, a workplace right”.

The employer was also found to have threatened employees in a post shared to social media in January 2019.

The post, which was shared to a private Facebook group by the Tantex general manager, was made in response to staff lobbying for 10-minute breaks.

“If we implement this [ten minute break] over our current situation on your shift –– this ten minute break would be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet,” the manager wrote.

“So, I hope to god you don’t get thirsty on your next shift because we just wouldn’t be able to allow a drink. Fair is Fair, right?”

HRD contacted McDonald’s for comment and a spokesperson said the company continues to work closely with their restaurants to ensure employees receive all the correct workplace entitlements and pay.

“We are, of course, disappointed that this did not happen in this case,” the spokesperson told HRD.

READ MORE: Focus should now turn to real workplace reforms

“As was represented to the Court, the franchisee’s breach of the Enterprise Agreement was unintentional and did not result in any form of underpayment of wages.” 

The spokesperson added that the franchisee has already implemented processes to ensure ongoing compliance.  

“A dedicated employee assistance hotline is available to any McDonald's staff who may have queries regarding their employment conditions. We remain committed to working with our employees and franchisees to ensure any concerns are addressed.”

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