Employment Relations Authority rules in favour of bus drivers on split shifts

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has found in favour of bus drivers on the issue of how many breaks they are entitled to when working split shifts.

The authority has ruled the definition of a “work period” is the time between a bus driver starting and finishing their work on any given day, regardless of split shifts.

This means a split shift driver’s work period is from the time they clock on for their first shift to when they clock off after their second shift, including the unpaid break time in between.

Additional 10-minute breaks, which drivers are entitled to under new legislation introduced in 2019, should therefore be calculated in accordance with this work period.

The ERA dispute was between the Tramways Union and Wellington bus operator Tranzurban.

Tranzurban has been calculating breaks for split shift workers by defining two shifts on the same day as separate work periods.

This meant a driver would only get two additional 10-minute breaks- one on each shift.

But the ERA decision means these drivers will get three t10-minute breaks when their work period, which includes the unpaid period in between the two shifts, exceeds 10 hours.

The Tramways Union argued if it was possible to have more than one start and finish time, it would also be possible to structure the work day into many work periods and thereby deprive staff of any breaks.

This would totally undermine the Employment Relations Act, the union said.

Tranzurban argued a work period is the time an employee is actually performing work duties or is on an authorised rest or meal break.

“Defining a work period as including the entire period within one day that a person is working would be artificial.

“If there is a significant period of time between the ending of the first shift and the commencing of the second, then the work period would be artificially inflated and their entitlements to meal and rest breaks artificially inflated as well.”

But ERA member Michael Loftus found the union’s argument to be “far more persuasive”.

Loftus concluded the union was correct and the term “work period” covered all time between an employees’ initial commencement and final cessation of work on any given day.

Tramways Union Secretary Kevin O’Sullivan said he was pleased with the decision.

“It’s bad enough that these split shifts create long and fatiguing workdays for drivers throughout the industry but taking away break entitlements compounds that fatigue.

“We’re very pleased that common sense has prevailed, if splitting shifts were allowed to eliminate break entitlements it would have opened the door to multiple splits removing all breaks.

Tranzurban has been approached for comment.

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