Council workers to clock off for smoke breaks

Breckland Council workers will be forced to 'clock off' for cigarette breaks if the authority's politicians agree to adopt a proposed new smoking policy.

Members of the council's general purposes committee were asked at a meeting yesterday to agree a formal policy which will 'ensure that smokers and non-smokers are treated equally'.

The issue was raised in a staff survey which showed a degree of resentment among the workforce about the amount of time some of their colleagues spent enjoying their vice during working hours.

The draft policy under discussion says 'staff wishing to take a cigarette break must clock/in out for the duration of their break' – with any rebels facing disciplinary action.

Council leader William Nunn said the proposed policy was aimed at creating a fair workplace for all council employees – not about clamping down on smokers' free will.

'We asked whether people wanted a total ban on smoking and most of them said that would be unfair,' he said. 'I, as a member, agree with that. It is not about enforcing our opinions on people, it is just about making it fair.

'I believe we are taking a very lenient and relaxed stance. We value our staff and recognise we all have different preferences and it is important to retain that.

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'We just want to ensure that the time people take to go and have a smoke is their time and not our time.'

Mr Nunn said the policy, if adopted, would be an extension of the council's existing flexi-time scheme and said smokers could make up for their breaks at other times of the day.

The survey showed that 23pc of Breckland's staff smoke, with 54pc claiming they already clocked out every time they left the building to satisfy their nicotine cravings.

'On this survey, there were lots of people who wanted to instigate a policy which would make it an obligation to log out when people wanted to smoke,' said Mr Nunn.

'Over half of them already do this, but we are trying to make it fair both to the non-smokers who feel they are being put upon, and to the half of smokers who already take it on their own time to go and have a cigarette.'

Individual replies to the survey included sentiments like: 'I feel that it is unfair that smokers get a break to have a cigarette. I can't keep going out and reading a book or have a glass of wine – surely they can last without a cigarette for three hours.'

Meanwhile, the responses from exasperated smokers included: 'Leave us alone, we are penalised enough everywhere else, we're not causing any harm except to ourselves and it's our choice!'