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Supreme Court ruling in offshore workers’ holiday battle

BY Greg Fletcher
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

Offshore oilrig workers have lost their legal battle over holidays in a Supreme Court judgment that the RMT Union has described as “a slap in the face”.

The dispute centred over whether employees working a “two week onshore / two week offshore” shift pattern were entitled to extra holidays under the Working Time Regulations.  

The Regulations stipulate that all UK employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave each year. According to Oil and Gas UK, a typical offshore worker rota allows for over 26 weeks on land where the employee is not required to attend work.  

It has long been accepted that, under Regulation 15 of the WTR, employers can stipulate when employees are required to take annual leave. The employer in this case, Transocean International Resources Limited, argued that the annual entitlement to holidays was more than covered by the time offshore workers were required to spend onshore, away from work.  

This argument was initially rejected by the Employment Tribunal. However, Transocean appealed against that judgment and the case made its way through the courts until it reached the Supreme Court which found in favour of the employers.  

It was argued that, had the Supreme Court decided in favour of the employees, the effect of the judgment would be such that other workers who are required to take leave at certain times of the year, such as teachers and footballers, would be entitled to take leave during normal working periods e.g. term time.  

However, the decision as it stands is likely only to impact on marine workers such as the Claimants in this case. Employers who operate in that industry would be well advised to clarify their position in relation to leave, perhaps by giving notice under Regulation 15 well in advance of working rotas being agreed with workers. For example, employers could stipulate dates of leave on an annual basis or insert a term into employment contracts which clarifies the company’s leave policy.

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