Peter Edwards appears in Supreme Court working time case

Peter Edwards, led by Tom Linden QC, appeared in the Supreme Court representing members of the Unite trade union who work in the offshore oil and gas industry. The appeal was against the decision of the Inner House of the Scottish Court of Session ([2011] IRLR 24). The issue in the appeal was the application to offshore workers of the provisions of the Article 7 of the Working Time Directive, 2003, and Regulation 13 of the Working Time Regulations, 1998, which relate to paid annual leave.                      

The working patterns of the majority of the appellants consist of a repeating shift pattern of a period of two weeks working off-shore (during which they work 14 shifts of 12-hours per shift) followed by two weeks on-shore, known as a “field break”. During the onshore field break, the appellants are on the whole free from work-related obligations. Each of the appellants requested to take the leave to which they were entitled during periods when they were scheduled to be working offshore. Those requests were refused by the employers, who maintained that any entitlement to paid annual leave was discharged by the existing provisions for field breaks.

The appellants brought proceedings before the Employment Tribunal, represented by Peter Edwards, which upheld their claims. That decision was overturned by a majority of the Scottish EAT. The decision of the EAT was upheld by the Inner House. The Inner House held that the field break constituted the workers’ annual leave. It also, controversially, held that, despite the clear wording of Regulation 15 of the WTR, workers were entitled to insist on taking annual leave in week long blocks. 

Both aspects of the Inner House’s decision are in issue before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was invited by the appellants to refer the matter for consideration by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Supreme Court’s Judgment is expected early in the New Year.    

Peter Edwards was instructed by Paul Evans of Thompsons solicitors.

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