In yet another case concerning holidays, the Supreme Court has handed down its decision in Russell and ors v Transocean International Resources Ltd and ors, confirming that the statutory holiday entitlement of offshore workers is satisfied by the provision of regular onshore 'field breaks'.

The claimants worked on offshore oil rigs, typically on a “two weeks on, two weeks off” rotation. Whilst onshore, they were not contractually required to carry out any duties. The claimants brought claims that they were entitled to their statutory holiday entitlement over and above their two week onshore field breaks. The employers argued the time they spent onshore encompassed their statutory entitlement to leave. The employees however contended that “annual leave” meant release from what would otherwise be an obligation to work, which did not exist during their field breaks.

The Tribunal initially upheld the employees’ claims. This decision was overturned by the EAT, and the EAT’s decision upheld by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal’s decision has now also been upheld by the Supreme Court, which refused to refer the case to the CJEU for guidance on the meaning of the expression “annual leave” under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The Supreme Court held that leave did not have to be taken during a period when the employee would otherwise be required to be at work. Further, as contended by the employees, it didn’t consider that annual leave had a qualitative dimension. Provided the employee simply had a period of time when he was not at work, the requirements were met. Lastly, the Supreme Court considered whether an employee can be forced to take annual leave in periods shorter than one week. This is an important issue as, if the reasoning behind the Court’s decision in this case is taken to the extreme, employers may be able to argue that employees’ holiday entitlement is satisfied on Saturdays (with Sundays being the weekly rest day). The Supreme Court however suggested that, as the entitlement to annual leave is measured in weeks, and not days, whilst workers can opt to take it in days, they did not consider an employer could force employees to do so.

Points for employers

  • The decision is not only of relevance to the oil and gas industry, where shift patterns involving field-breaks are common. It also applies to other sectors where employees are required to take leave during periods when they are not required to work, such as teachers, professional footballers or those who work in the tourist industry.
  • As the Supreme Court refused to make a reference to the CJEU, this should now be the end of this litigation. However, it has been reported that oil workers intend to continue their fight, and the RMT and Unite unions intend to meet with their members in the New Year to discuss possible strike action. It therefore remains to be seen whether the dispute has reached the end of the line.

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