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Annual leave during non-work periods

The Supreme Court has found that employers can insist that offshore workers take paid annual leave during ‘field-breaks’ spent onshore (Russell and others v Transocean International Resources Limited and others [2011] UKSC 57). While of greatest significance in the offshore sector the decision will also reassure employers in other sectors (such as education and tourism) that workers can be obliged to take annual leave during periods when no work is undertaken.

The workers spent two weeks working offshore (12 hours on, 12 hours off) followed by two weeks onshore on ‘field-breaks’. They were occasionally asked to carry out work-related activities during ‘field-breaks’, such as training, appraisals and medical assessments. However, time spent on these activities was minimal.

The workers argued that ‘annual leave’ meant release from what would otherwise have been an obligation to work and so they should be permitted to take annual leave during periods when they would have been working offshore. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the employers were entitled to insist on the workers taking their paid annual leave during periods when they were onshore on field-breaks.

Notably, the offshore workers in this case were only asked to perform minimal work-related activities during field-breaks. If employers need workers to be available for more onerous duties during ‘non-work periods’, they should allocate particular non-work periods to annual leave and ensure workers are not asked to carry out any form of work during these times.

In some cases, periods offshore attract higher rates of pay than those onshore and so trade unions may seek to argue that annual leave should attract the higher rate of pay attributed to offshore periods.

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