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Breaks between shifts

Breaks between shifts

A recent Fair Work Australia decision means that some nurses are now entitled to a minimum 10-hour break between shifts. However, with Australia’s complex industrial relations laws, it is likely to apply to very few Victorian nurses. This is because the decision applies to the Nurses Modern Award 2010, which in turn only applies to those nurses not covered by an enterprise agreement. The Award also acts as a safety net that enterprise agreements are tested against by Fair Work Australia before approval, in what is known as the ‘better off overall test’ or ‘BOOT’.

Most enterprise agreements require a 10-hour break between the completion of overtime and the commencement of the next shift, but only require an eight-hour gap between normal shifts.

For those workplaces with 10-hour nights, this 10-hour gap already exists between evening shift and morning shift, but for many members the ‘late/early’ remains a feature of their working lives. Several studies illustrate the negative effects associated with being awake for extended periods of time and ongoing reduced sleep, a proper break between rostered shifts is essential to the health and safety of employees.

The Commission found, not surprisingly, that “It will often be impractical for an employee to leave the workplace, travel home, eat and sleep for a healthy duration and travel back to work with an eight hour break between shifts”

A curious twist in the Commission’s decision is the capacity for an employee to ‘agree’ to an eight-hour break, finding that employees “will be in the best position to manage their own fatigue” when:

  • it is a positive duty on employers to provide safe systems of work for their employees.
  • employees can be pressured by employers to forego something that the Commission has found they should have.

By Paul Gilbert, Acting Secretary