The Working Time Directive (93/104/EC) was adopted under article 118A of the
Treaty establishing the European Community to "encourage improvements,
especially of the working environment, as regards safety and health of workers".
Offshore workers were initially excluded from the Directive when it came into
force in 1998, as the Commission and member states agreed that these sectors
would require their own special rules. The main proposal, the Horizontal Amending
Directive came into effect on 1 August 2003, through the Working Time (Amendment)
Regulations 2003. The 1998 and 2003 Regulations have now been consolidated
into the Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC.

Under Regulations, offshore workers are entitled to the following:

  • average 48-hour working week;
  • 4 week's paid annual leave;
  • 1 day's rest in 7 (or 2 every 14 days);
  • 11 hour's rest between working days;
  • 20 minute's rest break if the working
    day is over 6 hours;
  • health assessments for night workers;
  • limits imposed on night working and
    special protections for young workers.

In June 2004, a challenge was brought by oil industry unions, including OILC
(Offshore Industry Liaison Committee), on behalf of nearly 300 off-shore workers
who typically work two weeks on / two weeks off. Their claim relates to the
right to receive 4 weeks paid leave per year under Regulation 13.

The reference period for calculating offshore workers' entitlement to leave
was amended from a 17 week period to be 52 weeks. The union, is arguing that
when a worker is on station, he is working 12 hour shifts and at the firm's
beck and call 24 hours-a-day; therefore he cannot go out, spend time with his
family or do other things most people take for granted. The union therefore
believes that the two-weeks-off period is just calculating back the normal
rest time other workers enjoy in the evenings and weekends and should not count
as holiday. Employers, on the other hand, argue that they more than meet the
requirements of the regulations with the current two weeks on/two weeks off
system.

A case management meeting took place on 23 February 2005 at Aberdeen Tribunal
Office. A date has been set for a preliminary hearing on 'jurisdiction' on
16 to 20 May 2005. Offshore employers will argue that the Regulations do not
apply to those employed outwith UK "territorial waters" (i.e. installations
that are more than 12 miles offshore). Aberdeen South Labour MP Anne Begg questioned
their reasoning in the House of Commons on 3 March 2005 saying "I find
it particularly perverse that their lawyers are now arguing in an industrial
tribunal that the horizontal amending directive…which extends the Working
Time Directive to the offshore oil and gas exploitation sector, doesn't apply
offshore".

Ms Begg tabled a Bill in the House of Commons proposing that National Minimum
Wage ‘Compliance Officers’ should have the power to take action
against employers in breach of the Working Time Regulations. She argued the
Bill had the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people.

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