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No holidays outside rest periods, Supreme Court says

Ruling applies to oil workers, teachers and footballers

12 December 2011

Workers can be told to take holidays during rest periods where they cannot work, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The case involved Scottish oil and gas workers, who work on the rigs for two weeks and then have two weeks off, but the ruling applies to other jobs where holiday is required to be taken at a certain time, such as teachers and professional footballers.

Delivering the leading judgment in Russell and others v Transocean International Resources Ltd (Scotland) [2011] UKSC 57, Lord Hope said the central issue was whether the period spent onshore should count towards the workers’ entitlement under regulation 13 of the Working Time Regulations (WTR) to four weeks paid annual leave.

Lord Hope said the oil workers argued that ‘annual leave’ meant release from what would otherwise have been an obligation to work, and that the employers cannot discharge this by insisting that they take this during periods of field break.

“Their periods of field break, they say, is their time,” Lord Hope said. “It is not their employers’ time, and they insist that it is the employers’ time out of which the annual leave should be taken.

“The respondents say that the time spent onshore is in itself a rest period, as it is not working time. And they point out that it is substantially more than the minimum of four weeks’ annual leave to which the appellants are entitled under the WTR.”

Lord Hope said that during the periods of field break the oil workers attended occasional events that could only be undertaken onshore, such as training courses, appraisals and medical assessments.

“But it is agreed that these occasional activities are of no significance for present purposes. For the most part the appellants were free from work-related obligations during the entire period of their field breaks. They could spend their time as they chose.”

Lord Hope said the facts of the case “do not support the idea that the field break is not a genuine break or otherwise unreal. Nor has there been any suggestion that the pattern of working has had, or is liable to have, an adverse effect on the appellants’ health or safety.

“For these reasons I would hold that the respondents are entitled to insist that the appellants must take their paid annual leave during periods when they are onshore on field break.”

He rejected the oil workers’ appeal and refused a request for a reference to the ECJ. Lords Brown, Mance, Kerr and Wilson agreed.

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