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  • Rest Breaks – Appropriate Alternative Arrangements

    27th February 2018

    Under Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), workers are entitled to an uninterrupted 20-minute rest break if their daily working time exceeds six hours.

    However, there are exceptions to this general rule to take account of unusual or particular working arrangements where strict compliance would cause operational difficulties, which include where the worker works in railway transport and their 'activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic'.

    Where an exception applies, the employer should nevertheless allow the worker to take an 'equivalent period of compensatory rest' wherever possible (Regulation 24(a)). In exceptional cases in which there are objective reasons for this not being possible, the employer must provide such protection as is appropriate in order to safeguard the worker's health and safety (Regulation 24(b)).

    A recent case on the topic (Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited) concerned a relief railway signalman, Mr Crawford, who worked eight-hour shifts at various signal boxes, all but one of which were single manned.

    Train traffic was sporadic and, although he normally worked alone, he was able to take short breaks that together amounted to well over 20 minutes during each shift.

    He was not, however, guaranteed continuous 20 -minute breaks and his employer required him to remain on call at all times and to take breaks as they naturally occurred in the course of his working day.

    Mr Crawford claimed that his employer, Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, was in breach of the WTR for failing to provide either a 20-minute rest break or compensatory rest.

    Network Rail argued that the system in place was actually more beneficial from a health and safety point of view than one involving a continuous 20-minute break.

    It was accepted that Regulation 12 of the WTR did not apply to him. However, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that Network Rail had met its obligations as it 'permitted (indeed encouraged) him to take compensatory rest breaks'.

    If it was wrong on that point, the ET found that it would be possible to employ someone to relieve Mr Crawford and his colleagues to ensure they could take a full 20-minute break.

    In upholding Mr Crawford's challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) relied on the Court of Appeal's decision in Hughes v The Corps of Commissionaires Management Limited that whereas in normal cases a rest break must be outside working time altogether, in cases where an equivalent period of compensatory rest is offered, this need not be the case.

    It must, however, 'have the characteristics of a rest in the sense of a break from work' and the employer must, as far as possible, ensure that the period that is free from work is of at least 20 minutes.

    The EAT found that the length of the individual's break was crucial and it is not open to employers to decide otherwise.

    The ET had observed that it would be possible to afford Mr Crawford such continuous breaks by laying on appropriate personnel to relieve him and, in those circumstances, Network Rail had breached its obligations under Regulation 24.

    The case was remitted to the ET to consider the question of remedies.

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