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First Employment Court examination of rest break laws

First Employment Court examination of rest break laws
Article Type:
Publication Date:
New Zealand
Judgment Date:

Greenslade v Jetstar Airways Limited [2014] NZEmpC 23, 14 February 2014

This is the first case in the Employment Court to deal with the rest and meal break provisions in Part 6D the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA). It concerns the statutory interpretation of the rest break provisions and was brought by a Jetstar pilot living in and employed in New Zealand.

The pilot’s individual employment agreement (IEA) provided that rest breaks would be taken in accordance with those in the ERA (s 69ZD).  The collective agreement which replaced the IEA contained no reference to rest breaks but did refer to “rest periods”. The pilot was not provided with any rest breaks during his working day. Jetstar relied on s 69ZH ERA, saying it meant they were exempt from providing the breaks in s 69ZD ERA. In any event, there was no opportunity for pilot rest breaks during their working day of flying planes, either when in the air or on the ground.  This was especially because of Jetstar’s operational structure which focused on minimal turnaround time between revenue generating flights.

The laws and rules governing Jetstar’s operations in New Zealand are complex and also involve Australian civil aviation laws and rules. Jetstar argued that they were exempt from having to provide rest breaks to their pilots because s 69ZH of the ERA provided that where an employee was required to take rest breaks under another enactment (law), the other law would apply instead of the rest break provision at s 69ZD. The other law they relied on was in fact an Australian law which had the result of not requiring Jetstar to provide their pilots with rest breaks – the exemption mentioned above.

This case was heard by the full court of the Employment Court because the issues it dealt with are relevant to all parties to employment relationships.

The Court firstly distinguished a “rest break” from a “rest period”. A rest break is a break during a period of work, and not a rest period between periods of work. For example, a rest break may be a break for morning tea, during a work day, whereas a rest period starts at the end of a work day and ends when the employee starts work the next day.

It then concluded that the claimed exemption Jetstar relied on did not provide for rest breaks but rather dealt with rest periods, with the result that rest breaks were not provided for in the claimed exemption in any event.

The meaning of the word “enactment”, were it is contained in a New Zealand law, was examined and held to mean a New Zealand enactment, not an enactment of another country. Because of this the words of s 69ZH meant that if an employee was required to take rest breaks under another New Zealand law then they did not have to be given the rest breaks in s 69ZD.

The Court found that Jetstar was in breach of the ERA by not providing rest breaks and meal breaks as set out in s 69ZD. Jetstar had argued that the practical outcome of such a finding would be that its low cost/low yield business model would be significantly undermined. But the Court said that there are other duty time limitations on pilots which also impact on an airline’s ability to operate their schedules for maximum efficiency and productivity. It observed that Air New Zealand manages to provide rest and meal breaks to its pilots in accordance with the ERA. The Court did not make any orders as a result of its findings, because the parties submitted they were capable of finding a resolution about what to do next between themselves.

Employment Relations Act 2000
Organisations Mentioned:
Jetstar; Air New Zealand
Reference No:

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