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Offshore workers lose annual leave appeal

7 December 2011

A group of offshore workers in the North Sea have failed in their bid to claim an additional entitlement to annual leave based on the EU Working Time Directive and UK Working Time Regulations.

The UK Supreme Court today ruled against their claim that under the directive, their periods of leave should be counted against time they would otherwise have had to work offshore.

Most of the workers followed a shift pattern of two weeks offshore, working daily 12-hour shifts, followed by two weeks onshore when they were generally free from work-related obligations. Their employers maintained that the entitlement to paid annual leave was discharged by providing these rest periods.

The workers' argument that "annual leave" in the regulations, properly construed, meant release from what would otherwise have been an obligation to work, was accepted before the employment tribunal at first instance, but rejected on appeal to the employment appeal tribunal and then the Court of Session.

Refusing the workers' final appeal, Lord Hope, speaking for all five justices, said that the Working Time Directive did not imply any qualitative requirement to test whether a given period could be accounted as rest. The exercise to be carried out was "simply one of counting up the relevant hours, days or seven-day periods and ensuring that the worker is not required to work during those periods".

A "rest period" was any period which was not working time, and included any period when the appellants were on
field break onshore. The employers were therefore entitled to insist that the appellants take their paid annual leave during periods other than their 26 working weeks in the year. This was permitted by regulation 13 of the Working Time Regulations, read in conformity with article 7 of the Working Time Directive. Its interpretation was not open to any doubt and it was not necessary to make a reference to the European Court for a ruling on the point.

Click here to access the judgment.

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