Cases of interest: April 2019

A summary of interesting or topical employment cases.

Derbie v Tranzurban Hutt Valley Limited [2019] NZEmpC 37

Employment Court – Statutory entitlement for rest breaks – Relationship between break provisions in the Land Transport Act 1998 and the Employment Relations Act 2000

The employee is a bus driver in an ongoing employment relationship with Tranzurban. His individual employment agreement provides for an entitlement to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes. No reference is made to other rest breaks in the agreement.  Short rest breaks are scheduled into the bus routes, but in practice this time is often absorbed by operational delays such as heavy traffic and road works.  

The employee argued that the employer was not meeting its obligation to provide him with reasonable rest breaks under s 69ZD of the Employment Relations Act 2000 (“ERA”) (external link) . Section 69ZD requires employers to provide their employees with rest breaks that allow the employee a reasonable opportunity for rest and refreshment and are appropriate for the length of the shift.  The employer argued that the employee’s breaks are governed by the Land Transport Act 1998 (“LTA”) and the Land Transport Rule: Work Time and Logbooks 2007 (“LTR”) and that these override the ERA. The LTA and LTR provide that employees are entitled to a 30 minute meal break after five and a half hours of continuous work.

At issue was whether s 69ZH of the ERA (external link) meant that an employer is only obliged to provide its employees with breaks that correspond to the LTR, or whether they are also obligated to provide breaks as outlined in the ERA. The Court discussed the different objectives of the Acts. The LTA promotes safe road user behaviour and fatigue management. The statutory obligation for rest and meal breaks in the ERA intends to benefit employees with wellbeing and work-life balance. 

The Court held that the two should operate side-by-side in order to achieve both objectives (see para 36). The LTA provisions are capable of coexisting with those in the ERA (see para 45). Therefore, the employer was obliged to provide rest breaks. However, an employer cannot control traffic delays. The Court ultimately found, on the specific facts of this case, that the breaks provided to employees were sufficient to meet the employer’s obligations (see para 86).

Link to case [PDF 674 KB] (external link)

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