Rest Break Not Interrupted by Attendance at Union Meeting
Time spent by trade union representatives attending union meetings was not “working time” and did not therefore interrupt the 11 hour rest period an employee is entitled to in any 24 hour period.
In Edwards v Encirc Ltd, E attended union meetings which took place during the day time and outside his shift hours of 7pm to 7am. He argued that time spent in union meetings was working time and so his employer was not providing him with 11 hours of uninterrupted rest between shifts.
The employment tribunal ruled that time spent on trade union duties or activities was not “working time” for the purposes of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”). Working time is defined as “any period during which the worker is working, carrying out his duties, and at the employer's disposal”. Although time spent at union meetings was time during which he was working, he was not carrying out his duties, nor was he at the employer’s disposal as he was beyond its control and direction. All three elements of the definition had to be satisfied.
Although working time is also defined to include any additional period which is agreed in a relevant agreement to be "working time", the recognition agreement in this case was silent on the issue.
The employer was not therefore in breach of its obligation to provide 11 hours of uninterrupted rest.
Employers need to ensure that employees receive 11 hours of uninterrupted rest in each 24 hour period. This case makes it clear that time spent on trade union duties and activities will not be working time and so will not interrupt a rest period. However, employers should check whether there is anything in employment contracts or collective agreements which states that time spent on union duties constitutes working time as this could affect whether they are complying with their obligations under the WTR.
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