UK Employers Win Paid-Vacation Case



The London Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of employers, saying that time off during offshore workers' onshore "field breaks" exceed the minimum legal amount of time off employers are required to provide workers.

Issued Wednesday at 9:45 a.m., the Supreme Court's decision stated that offshore sector employers can mandate offshore workers to take their annual leave during scheduled field breaks. The ruling upheld Scotland's highest appeals court's decision made in November 2010 in the case of Russell and others vs. Transocean and others.

The court said a "reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union is not necessary in this case, and that the meaning to be given to Article 7 of the Working Time Directive 2003 (WTD), for the purposes of this judgment, is not open to any doubt."

The case, brought by a group of offshore oil rig workers, claimed their employer denied them their minimum statutory holiday entitlement. The oil rig workers worked two weeks offshore and then had two weeks onshore.

While offshore, the workers worked in 12-hour shifts with 12-hour breaks between shifts. During field breaks (the two-week period onshore), workers typically were not required to do any work with the exception of occassionally attending training courses.

The issue in this case was whether the period spent onshore should count towards the workers' entitlement to four weeks' paid annual leave.

"This has been a long awaited decision and with the Supreme Court also ruling that the matter should not be referred to Europe, it has finally come to a conclusion. As a matter of law, employers in the offshore sector can now insist that annual leave is taken during normal field break/rotational work patterns - a decision that will be welcomed by many in the industry," said Sean Saluja, partner of the Employment Law Division of Paull & Williamsons in a press release. "We have been working on behalf of a number of employers for a long period of time having commenced this journey in 2007 and we are delighted to have this successful outcome."

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) set out in domestic law the provisions of the Working Time Directive 2003 (WTD), which requires minimum health and safety requirements for the organization of working time, with "minimum rest periods" consisting of daily rest, weekly rest and annual leave.

Article 7 of the WTD and Regulation 13 of the WTR provide that the worker is entitled to paid annual leave of at least four weeks (at the time Russell and others made their claims).

Regulation 15 of the WTR provides that a worker may take leave to which he is entitled on such days as he chooses by giving notice to his employer, but that the employer may require him to take leave on particular days.

While employers are overjoyed, the case-ruling brings the risk of a strike among North Sea workers. Regional organizer of OILC-RMT Jake Molloy told Upstream Online that the possibility of strike action could not be dismissed. OILC-RMT and Unite appealed seven sample cases in an original action before the Abderdeen Employment Tribunal.

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