We’ve all had that feeling of staring at the clock and silently praying for it to tick over to meal break time. Or those times when your supervisor approaches you three minutes before lunch break to ask you to deal with that urgent breakdown.
So, when are you actually allowed to take lunch? And what happens when you don’t get a meal break?
Rare footage of us waiting for lunch
When can I take my meal break?
Unhelpfully, there are no standard national rules around meal breaks. Your entitlement to a meal break will be contained in your relevant enterprise agreement or in your Award.
If you’re not sure what Agreement or Award applies to you, contact the AMWU Help Desk on 1300732698.
Most of the Awards that apply to workers in manufacturing workplaces specify that an employee cannot work more than five hours without a meal break. The rules do stipulate that this rule can be changed by agreement between an employer and the majority of employees.
In most circumstances, meal breaks are unpaid and for a minimum of 30 minutes long.
What happens if I can’t take my meal break?
Again, the rules on this will vary depending on the Award or Agreement you are working under. Remember, you can always call the Help Desk on 1300732698 if you’re not sure what Award or Agreement applies to you.
In many Awards and Agreements, if your employer refuses to give you a meal break, you may be entitled to be paid overtime penalty rates until such time as you get your meal break. For example, if you’re entitled to a meal break after 5 hours but you go 7 hours without a meal break, you could be entitled to 2 hours at the appropriate overtime penalty rate depending on which Award or Agreement applies to you.
There are exceptions
Many Awards and Agreements specify certain exception for employees who do maintenance works. Here is an example of a clause taken from the VEHICLE MANUFACTURING, REPAIR, SERVICES AND RETAIL AWARD 2010:
26.5 An employee required to perform regular maintenance will work at the ordinary rates during meal breaks whenever instructed to do so for the purposes of making good breakdowns of plant or upon routine maintenance of plant which can only be done while such plant is idle.
Another example is where you may have reached agreement to vary the rule around how long you can work before being entitled to a meal break. Here is an example taken from the MANUFACTURING AND ASSOCIATED INDUSTRIES AND OCCUPATIONS AWARD 2010:
38.5 Except as otherwise provided in clause 38—Meal breaks and except where any alternative arrangement is entered into by agreement between the employer and the employee concerned, time and a half rates must be paid for all work done during meal hours and thereafter until a meal break is taken.
So, before you start claiming that sweet overtime cash, check that one of the exceptions doesn’t apply to you.
Did we mention you can call the Help Desk?
Remember, the rules around taking meal breaks vary a lot between industries and workplaces. If you’re not sure what applies to you, contact the AMWU Help Desk on 1300732698.