Supreme Court delivers good news for the offshore oil industry

December 14, 2011

The recent decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Russell and others v Transocean International Resources Ltd is good news for employers in the offshore oil industry who can breathe a sigh of relief following confirmation that onshore field-breaks can constitute annual leave.

The case concerned seven employees who worked on offshore oil installations, typically on a rota basis of two weeks offshore followed by two weeks of “field break” at home. During the field breaks they were not contractually required to carry out any duties, but occasionally had carry out work related activities, such as attending medical assessments, appraisals or training courses. The individuals asked to take annual leave during the time they were scheduled to be working offshore. Their requests were turned down and they brought Tribunal claims, arguing that they had been denied their statutory entitlement to annual leave and that the field breaks were simply “compensatory rest” as required by the Working Time Regulations, not annual leave. 

Two years ago the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that time spent on field breaks could constitute annual leave, noting that the employees were not obliged to work and nor were they “on call”; rather it was a genuine rest period which could be viewed as annual leave. The EAT likened the situation to that of teachers and professional football players who do not have work to do at certain times of the year and made the point that, if the offshore employees were correct in their argument, then such teachers and footballers could not be regarded as being on annual leave during those times.

This decision was upheld by the Court of Session in Scotland and now in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also refused the employees’ request to be allowed to go to the Court of Justice of the European Union to obtain a ruling on the meaning of the expression ‘annual leave’ under the Working Time Regulations.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that employers are entitled to insist that the employees take their annual leave during periods when they were onshore on field-breaks. Whilst the Supreme Court accepted that the purpose of the entitlement to annual leave was to enable workers to rest and to enjoy a period of relaxation, it said that there was “no indication” in the Working Time Directive that it is “concerned about the quality of the minimum periods of rest, other than to make clear...that it means a period which is not working time”. The decision is a sensible one and the clarity it brings will be welcomed by employers in the offshore oil industry.

 


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