Recently, a number of members from different parts of the country have sought clarification on the minimum entitlement of SNAs to breaks during their working day.
Section 2.5 of the SNA contract notes that breaks will be in accordance with the Working Time Act 1997. However, as to when breaks can be taken, the contract notes that the school principal will have discretion, a practical consideration with which we have no difficulty.
The Working Time Act says that, as a general rule, an employee is entitled to a break of 15 minutes after a 4.5 hour work period. If an employee works for more than six hours, the break entitlement rises from a minimum of 15 minutes to a minimum of 30 minutes.
So what does this mean? In practical terms, it means that if an SNA begins work at 9:00am, they have an entitlement to a 15 minute break at 1:30. However, the exact timing of breaks is something that should be decided locally, as ultimate discretion on the time at which a break starts belongs to the school principal.
Fórsa has been asked if the break times are ’owed’ back to the school. For example, if an SNA takes a 15 minute break, do they ‘owe’ that 15 minutes to the school? Must they extend their finishing time by 15 minutes?
The answer is no. There is no reason that this should be happening. It is not provided for in the Working Time Act and such a practice would certainly run against the spirit of the Act.
- What are my entitlements? 15 minutes after 4.5 hours, rising to 30 minutes after six hours
- When can I take it? This is at the discretion of the principal
- Do I have to add the time on to the end of my day? No
Section 2.5 of the SNA contract can be accessed here. Members should note that this is the only agreed contract. Members should contact their Fórsa branch or organiser if they are aware of any alternative contract or alternative contract wording being used.
Breaks should be a whole school matter. The vast majority of schools correctly allocate equal breaks to all of their staff.