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Supreme Court Decision Means Teachers’ Annual Leave May be Restricted to School Holidays

A Supreme Court decision this month has clarified annual leave entitlement in a decision which will reassure the education sector. 


In Russell and Others v. Transocean International Resources Limited, the Supreme Court has upheld a decision of the Extra division of the Court of Session and concluded that employees, whose obligation to work only applies to particular periods of the year, can be required to take their annual leave entitlement during the periods in which they are not required to work.

In the Transocean case, a number of oil rig workers in Aberdeen issued proceedings in which they contended that the relevant provisions of the Working Time Regulations required their employer to permit them to take four weeks paid annual leave during the period they were required to be offshore on the oil rig and not during the period they called their ‘field break’ when they were resting back on land.   Like teachers, who don’t work during school holidays, the oil workers were only obligated to work at certain periods of the year.  This arrangement consisted of two weeks on the oil rig, working twelve hour shifts, followed by two weeks on field break.

The oil workers argued that “annual leave,” properly construed, means that an employee is released from what would otherwise have been an obligation to work.  Therefore, leave could not be taken out of the periods when the oil rig workers were on field break because they were not required by their contracts to work during those periods.  As a parallel argument, teachers might say that they are not obligated to work during the summer holidays and therefore they should be able to take their annual leave during term time when they are obligated to work. 

However in deciding against the oil rig workers, the Supreme Court decided that there is nothing in European Law, or in the Working time Regulations 1998, that states that a pre-ordained rest period when the worker is free from all obligations to the employer cannot be taken as annual leave.   Had this decision gone the other way, the education sector would have become seriously burdened with the cost and administrative issues associated with allowing teachers to take their annual leave during term time.

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Published: Monday 12th December 2011
Categorised: Education, Employment

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