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In Labour News by Jan Truter5 Comments

Question: Are employees entitled to be paid for tea and other breaks that occur in the working day?

Answer: As a general rule employees are not entitled to pay for tea and other breaks. There are certain exceptions, though.

Brief explanation: Section 14 of the BCEA regulates meal intervals (which are unpaid unless employees are required to be available for work). The BCEA says nothing about tea or other breaks. Employers and employees are therefore free to enter into their own agreements regarding such breaks. In accordance with common law such breaks would be unpaid (‘no work, no pay’) unless the parties agree that they should be paid. There are, however, certain exceptions. An example is SD9: Wholesale and Retail Sector, which states that, in addition to their daily unpaid meal interval, employees are entitled to two 15 minute breaks that are regarded as working time; and the Main Collective Agreement in the Metal and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council which provides for two 10 minutes breaks at full pay.

Alternative argument: Some argue that tea and other breaks should be paid. They rely on Section 14(4) of the BCEA which states the following: “For the purposes of subsection (1) work is continuous unless interrupted by an interval of at least 60 minutes.” According to the argument a short break (such as a tea break) is indeed the type of ‘interruption’ envisaged – which means that it should be regarded as continuous work and should therefore be paid. However, in our view this argument overlooks an important aspect. The introductory phrase “For the purposes of subsection (1)” is important in this context, because subsection 1 specifically regulates meal intervals. For there to be merit in the argument that tea and other breaks should be paid, one would expect the BCEA to make reference to such breaks. It does not.

Also see a discussion on this point HERE.

Jan Truter of


  1. I work as a storeman and i always got paid for morning tea until my new job i work at doesn’t pay for morning tea breaks as a storeman?

    1. Author

      You do not say what industry you’re in. There may be a Bargaining Council Agreement that regulates tea breaks. You also have to look at your contract of employment to see what it says about tea breaks.

  2. Are employes allowed to leave the work place on tea breaks of 15 minutes

    1. Author

      The Basic Conditions of Employment Act does not provide for tea breaks (some Bargaining Council Agreements provide for tea and other breaks, though). It is therefore up to the employer to regulate whether employees may have tea breaks and what they are allowed to do during those tea breaks.

    2. Author

      As employees are (in most industries) not automatically entitled to tea breaks, it is up to the employer who allows tea breaks to determine whether or not employees may leave the workplace during those breaks. The employer should also be free to introduce other restrictions with regard to tea breaks.

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