If you're being paid for your tea break, but you don't get to take your tea break because your workplace is short-staffed, are you still owed that money?
The Finance Sector Union (FSU) thinks so. Under a 2016 enterprise agreement, retail banking staff at the Commonwealth Bank are entitled to two paid 10-minute rest breaks during an eight-hour workday, one after working three hours and a second after working five hours. They also get an unpaid 45-minute lunch break. However, the union alleges that the bank has prevented staff from taking their rest breaks by deliberately keeping branches under-staffed.
FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano called it wage theft, saying: “Our members working in bank branches are entitled to these rest breaks, but most are never able to take them because of under-staffing."
"Make no mistake, if you are not able to take a paid rest break, then you’re having ten minutes of time stolen from you. It adds up very fast. We estimate this claim to be worth at least $45 million across 3000 workers.”
Today, the union filed suit against CBA over the missed rest breaks, demanding that the bank not only pay the amount representing the missed breaks, but also "staff their branches realistically" so that staff would be able to actually take breaks, leave, and sick days.
This dispute has been running since at least last March, with the bank calling the $45 million an ambit claim - an inflated claim made to force the bank to negotiate - and arguing that it does not in fact owe its staff any additional wages, because its staff are paid for the 20 minutes of breaks anyway and it's irrelevant whether or not the time is actually used for rest.