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Working Time Regulations Not Fit for Purpose, Claims Employment Law Expert

08 December 2011

A leading employment lawyer blamed "not fit for purpose” European and Westminster legislation for the costly seven year legal battle which ended in failure for unions representing UK offshore workers.

Five Supreme Court judges in London ruled unanimously yesterday (Wed) that offshore workers who worked a two week on-off rota were not entitled to an additional four weeks holiday pay under the Working Time Regulations.

If successful, the legal action would have cost the oil and gas industry an estimated £50 million a year but now the unions can expect a significant legal expenses bill.

Peter Sharp, a partner in McGrigors employment law team, said the decision was not a matter of celebration for employers and laid the blame squarely at legislators in Europe and London.

He said: "For once the law is not an ass and the Supreme Court has ruled it is a matter of common sense that workers, who have much greater periods of leave than the minimum amounts stipulated in the Working Time Regulations (WTR), are not entitled to additional leave.

"The WTR is so ambiguous and vague as to how "leave” should be defined by employers and employees that it was inevitable it would spawn argument and ultimately the head on dispute between Unions representing offshore workers and their employers.

"Good law should be like oil, lubricating a machine, and resolving potential tension from competing interests. The WTR is spectacularly bad law which has the exact opposite effect, generating tension and conflict.”

Mr Sharp said Westminster politicians had tried to avoid some of the ambiguities affecting the European law but without success.

"To be fair, this all started in Europe and Westminster tried to introduce greater clarity in the regulations, but their good intentions made it worse instead of better.

"Both sides of industry have been badly served by those responsible for the drafting of our employment laws, and in the case of WTR leading to seven years of wasted effort, not to mention cost incurred by employers and unions at a time when neither has time nor funds to waste.”

The Unions now face an estimated six figure legal bill for expenses incurred in the Court of Session and Supreme Court actions.