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A long-running legal dispute on offshore working hours and leave entitlement has ended with the Supreme Court ruling against the oil and gas workers who brought the case.
Announcing its decision yesterday (7 December), the Supreme Court upheld previous rulings of the Court of Session and the Employment Appeal Tribunal that time off work enjoyed by UK offshore oil and gas workers more than meets the legal amount of annual leave that employers must provide their employees under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) 1998.
The Supreme Court hearing focused on whether offshore workers were entitled to holiday time in addition to the time they spend onshore on ‘field break’ away from work. The appellants generally worked a pattern of two weeks offshore, followed by two weeks onshore. During their two weeks offshore, the workers generally carried out a 12-hour shift, including rest breaks. This was followed by 12 hours off duty, living offshore on the installation. They did not have any days off during their two weeks offshore.
The appellants argued that ‘annual leave’ means release from what would otherwise have been an obligation to work, and that the WTR required their employers to permit them to take annual leave from periods when they would otherwise be required to work offshore.
The Supreme Court highlighted that the European Court of Justice has not said that a pre-ordained rest period – when the worker is free from all obligations to the employer – can never constitute annual leave. Rather, the term ‘rest period’ simply means any period that is not working time.
In its judgement, Lord Hope concluded: “It is plan that any period when the appellants are on field break onshore will fall into this category. The respondents are therefore entitled to insist that the appellants must take their paid annual leave during periods other than their 26 working weeks when they are onshore on field break.”
The decision was welcomed by Paull & Williamsons, a law firm representing some of the employers involved in the litigation. Sean Saluja, partner of the company’s employment law division, said: “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.”
However, OILC – the offshore energy branch of the RMT union, which represented the workers, condemned the industry for continuing to claim that it sees health and safety of offshore workers as a priority while resisting the protections laid out in the Working Time Directive.