The EAT has held that offshore workers can be required to take their annual holiday entitlement under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) during onshore field breaks (Craig and others v Transocean International Resources Ltd and others).

The employees worked on offshore installations, typically following a work pattern of 2 weeks offshore followed by a 2 week "field break" at home. During the field break, the employees were not required to work, although they might occasionally be required to attend medical appointments, training courses or appraisal meetings. The claimants had all given notice under the WTR to take annual leave during rostered working time. The employers had refused the requests. Their position was that annual leave should only be taken during field breaks; the 26 weeks that the employees spent each year on field breaks was more than sufficient to cover their holiday entitlement.

The tribunal had held that offshore workers could not be required to take holidays during their field breaks as these breaks are times when the employees were not otherwise required to be at work but simply part of the normal work/rest pattern, just as weekends are for Monday to Friday workers.

By a majority, the EAT overturned the tribunal's decision. Time spent on field breaks is neither working time, nor compensatory rest; the employees are not at their employer's disposal, actually working or on call. Field breaks are therefore rest periods and available for annual leave. It was irrelevant that, because of working patterns in the industry, the employees would not otherwise be working in their field breaks. In any event, the EAT recognised that, in the offshore industry, workers are required 52 weeks per year, 24 hours per day and, if necessary, field breaks could be said to be time when the employees would otherwise be working were it not for the work patterns put in place by the employers.

Impact on employers

This case has been ongoing for 5 years and the decision represents a blow to offshore workers and may well be appealed. It will, however, be welcomed by the industry for whom providing annual leave on top of field breaks represented an organisational challenge and unwelcome additional cost.

Although based upon the particular circumstances of the oil industry, the decision is also relevant to employers of workers who work away from home or in businesses where employees take leave during a period when the workplace is closed, in determining when holidays can be taken.

The EAT commented that best practice would be for employers to notify workers in advance of when holidays can or cannot be taken, either in their contracts of employment or on an annual basis.