Published: 31/01/2022
Category: On The Job
Published: 31/01/2022
Category: On The Job

When you’re at work, it’s the little things you look forward to that can get you through the day.

That cup of tea and a biscuit mid-morning to clear your head, or that coffee you’ve promised yourself later in the afternoon that will help you get to the finish line for another day.

Those breaks you treasure didn’t happen by accident. They are hard fought entitlements that have been won long ago by workers and Unions who organised and campaigned for the right to be able to rest and reset during a day at work.

Which is why the news that the Financial Services Union (FSU) is having to fight a rearguard action on the issue of work breaks is rather galling.

Last week, the FSU lodged a claim in the Federal Court against the Commonwealth Bank over its failure to allow its retail staff to take ten-minute rest breaks during shifts.

This is the bank that is currently spending millions of dollars of shareholders money running a self congratulatory ad campaign claiming that “Can Lives Here”.

It seems the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) believes it can also rip workers off by stealing back their morning and afternoon breaks.

It’s a sad state of affairs that FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano has to re-state the obvious – that workers are entitled to one paid ten-minute rest break after working three hours and a second break after five hours in addition to a 45-minute lunch break.

“Our members working in bank branches are entitled to these rest breaks, but most are never able to take them because of under-staffing,” Ms Angrisano said.

“This is wage theft. 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.”

Let’s be clear about the Commonwealth Bank’s status. We are talking about a banking behemoth that posted an astounding 20% profit boost in the financial year 2020/2021.

That amounted to an $8.84 billion profit for the bank, delivering a $2 per share dividend to shareholders as a consequence. This is a bank that is making out like bandits when it comes to reducing profits.

So, why is it looking to squeeze its workforce and deny them this simple but vital access to a break at work?

Herein lies a lesson about big capital and its instinctive reflex. If it thinks it can graft even the slightest advantage from its workers rights and entitlements, reduce their wages bill, and turn the screws on its workforce, they will.

Julia Angrisano didn’t pull her punches.

“It’s pretty disgraceful that Australia’s biggest, richest bank is choosing to engage in wage theft and deliberate understaffing.”

“This is a claim about rest breaks but the real issue here is that every CBA branch is so short staffed, everyone is run off their feet, without even a moment to have a drink and check their phone – and that’s before you factor in the global pandemic!”

“We don’t just want the money repaid, we want CBA to staff their branches realistically so that our members can take the breaks they’re entitled to, book the leave they want, and have a sick day without being hassled to come in,” the FSU National Secretary said.

Whilst bosses are huddling regularly with the government in attempt to erode hard won Union health and safety protocols in workplaces to deal with a COVID work crisis of Scott Morrison’s making, they’ve shown no interest in protecting the wellbeing of those workers who are doing difficult jobs, dealing with a public that is stressed and a possible infection risk.

The idea that the Commonwealth Bank would try to dock workers entitlements whilst these front line staff are putting their own health on the line every time they turn up to work is galling, but unsurprising.

CBA has argued that compensation is not owed in relation to these breaks because they’re paid time breaks, and even where they’re not taken, no pay is lost.

Angrisano is having none of it.

“The Bank’s argument is nothing but weasel words. If people work for more time than they’re paid to work, more than they’re contracted to work, then the bank owes them for that extra time. You can bet that the bank would have a different view if the shoe were on the other foot and our members were knocking off half an hour early every day and still expecting a full day’s pay!”

“CBA’s arrogance in trying to have this argument both ways and changing their interpretation depending on who they’re talking to is exactly what the community is sick of from Australia’s banks.”

“We won’t stop until they get their act together. For our members and the community.”

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Rip our workers off? Commonwealth Bank’s Can Do attitude

Rip our workers off? Commonwealth Bank’s Can Do attitude