Long shifts, short breaks, and illegal rosters

Dara Browne

Credit: Pxhere

Worker rights and employment laws are things that a lot of students are not fully aware of.  Clara Kinsella used to fall into this bracket.

“I was breaking the law and I didn’t even know it.”

Kinsella, a waitress at a hotel, has the difficult job of living up to the expectations of managers who believe a part-time worker and full-time student only needs a three-hour break between shifts.

The second-year Biological and Biomedical Science student at Trinity College has worked in a Hotel and Country Club in County Dublin for two years and has found a family among her fellow workers.

The wait staff and other employees of the hotel often enjoy a night out in Cafe Bar in Swords, or a pint in Chalk Bar at the end of a long day. However, this is sometimes impossible to do due to illegal rostering of work times.

“For example, I’d be rostered from 4pm until midnight but there would be a wedding on so I would be expected to stay and work until 3.30am or 4am,” said Kinsella.

“I’d be expected to stay late and work that shift but I would never be asked, and I feel like I have to do it and I can’t say no because there’s such a family vibe between all of the staff members.

“We get on really well, and if you don’t work late, there’s nobody else to do it and you’re leaving your friends who are left there with more work, and who will then have to stay way later. You’re not damaging the managers, you’re damaging your friends, and that’s the most upsetting thing.”

Kinsella described the illegal hours as being “normal at this point” and says that the feeling of obligation to stay way past her rostered hours for the benefit of others is becoming very taxing.

On top of the illegal rostering hours and expectations to work long into the night without complaint, Kinsella can’t catch a break either; at least a legal one.

According to the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, workers are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any period of 24 hours between shifts.

However, according to Kinsella’s experience, this rule does not apply to them.

“After working the wedding for 12 hours, I could be rostered again at 7am for the breakfast shift, so that’s a three-hour break between my shifts. I can barely go home and have a nap, grab a bite to eat before I have to go and do another eight-hour shift that same day.”

As stated on Citizens Information, workers are entitled to a 15-minute break after working for a period of four and a half hours, and a 30-minute break for a six-hour work period.

“In my contract, it says that I get a half-hour unpaid break, a half-hour paid break, and a 15 minute paid break; so, that’s an hour and 15 minutes in total for a break throughout the day,” Kinsella said.

“I actually only get an hour and a half-hour unpaid break, which isn’t fair, and sometimes I don’t get a break at all. Or, I get my break at the end of my shift and instead of letting me just go home, instead, I have to sit and wait in the canteen before I can leave.”

An important thing to note regarding break periods is that a break at the end of the working day is “not acceptable and does not comply with the Act.”

Many students are afraid to confront their managers and respective bosses about their work conditions. Clare Tuite, third-year Children’s and General Nursing at DCU, can attest to this matter.

“I would never go to my manager or boss to confront them about work conditions or pay because I wouldn’t know how to go about doing it,” said Tuite. “I’d think ‘what if I come across as rude or entitled or like I’m looking for a pay rise and there’s people who’ve been here longer than me?’ and also; it’s just a part-time job.

“I really would not be aware of my rights as a worker. I’ve only ever been informed of my hours, I wouldn’t even be told about my pay. In my most recent job, I was never told what I would be paid per hour and they didn’t even give me a copy of my contract either which you’re supposed to get and I didn’t even know.”

Tuite suggested if there were some sort of induction for new employees starting a job to inform them about their rights as an employee and not just the role and duties of the job at hand, it would be a huge help.

“There shouldn’t be that fear of going to a manager to say you’re not happy with the work conditions or pay and I think it’s definitely something that would make a huge difference to me.”

On the other hand, Kinsella has said that she knows about her worker rights, but nothing is being done by her employers to change.

“My manager would just get annoyed if I brought it up and I would only be making the situation worse. I think nothing is being done, not because the managers don’t care, but because a lot of jobs like mine are so understaffed that the managers are also overworked to an extent and without a Human Resources department, the responsibility is being passed onto them which they have no time to deal with.”

Kinsella added, “I should feel lucky to have a break at all when sometimes my managers don’t get one.”

Without the resources, like an HR department, to aid workers in trying to improve conditions for themselves and co-workers, it seems that part-time working students are fighting a losing battle when it comes to improving work conditions.

Dara Browne

Image Credit: Pxhere