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What does the 38 hour week actually mean?

Hi Bare Bones Consulting, I’m not sure how to explain the 7.6 hour day to my employees and how this relates to their knock-off times each day under the 38 hour week in their Award. I don’t want to provide the wrong info or fall into the overtime payment trap… can you assist?

Good question and the relationship between 7.6 hours per day and 38 hour week thing is source of confusion for many employers and employees.

Interestingly, much of the confusion rests with how long you give your employees to eat their sandwiches (or, if you’re in certain hipster areas, their poke bowls). Although I’m tempted to sign off on that cryptic note, let’s take a walk through Australian Industrial Relations history to check out how 38 hours came about and go from there.

In 1927, the Arbitration Court decided to reduce ordinary weekly working hours from 48 to 44.

The 40 hour working week was adopted in 1947 and, in 1983, the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission introduced the 38 hour week.

How long is 7.6 hours in minutes?

Most of us in full-time employment are used to working a 5-day week, Monday to Friday.

Dividing 38 hours by 5 days gives us 7.6 hours each day. 7.6 hours equates to 7 hours 36 minutes.

The 38-hour week start and finish times

Now…here’s where the sandwiches come in.

Unless otherwise specified, a reference to a meal break in a Modern Award usually means the break is unpaid.

An unpaid lunch break would therefore not form part of the employee’s ordinary hours of work.

Assuming your employees commence at the same time each day, their finishing times will depend on how long they take for lunch.

  • If taking a 30-minute meal break, an employee commencing work at 9.00am would formally complete ordinary hours at 5.06pm. Any time after this would be considered overtime.

  • If taking a 60-minute meal break, an employee commencing work at 9.00am would formally complete ordinary hours at 5.36pm. Any time after this would be considered overtime.

Lunch Breaks – 30 minutes or 60 minutes?

I know very few businesses still offering one hour for lunch.

Most Monday-Friday employees are generally in the habit of finishing work at 5.00pm each day, hence the move to the shorter 30-minute lunch break and earlier finish.

Modern Awards will provide clarification on minimum meal and rest breaks within your particular industry.

All good? Think of the delicious poke you can afford now that your 38-hour week queries are solved!


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