The Working Time Regulations (WTR) 1998 state that if a worker is not able to take the 20-minute rest break to which they are entitled after working six hours, they should be allowed a period of “compensatory rest”. In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that a compensatory rest break must entail a break from work and be at least 20 minutes.

Thompsons was instructed by the RMT to act on behalf of their member.

Basic facts

Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman at various signal boxes in the south east which were nearly all single-staffed. Although the boxes were generally not very busy, he was still required to be alert at all times and do other things in addition to when trains were passing through. He was allowed to take short breaks which, over the length of an 8-hour shift, would total more than 20 minutes but as he was effectively on call the whole time, he could not take a continuous 20-minute break.

In its policy on rest breaks, Network Rail stated that employees at single-staffed locations had to take breaks as they occurred “naturally” with the result that the 20-minute break might end up being an aggregate of shorter breaks over the course of a shift. In that event, at least one of the “naturally occurring breaks” had to be at least five minutes long. 

Mr Crawford claimed that he was entitled to a 20-minute rest break under regulation 12 of the WTR or “compensatory rest” under regulation 24(a).

Relevant law

Regulation 12 provides for a rest break of not less than 20 minutes if a worker's daily working time is more than six hours, with the exception of workers in the “railway transport” industry who are involved in “ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic” They are entitled instead under regulation 24(a) to an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

Tribunal decision

The tribunal found that regulation 12 did not apply and that the arrangements made by Network Rail in its policy document satisfied the requirements of regulation 24(a).

Mr Crawford appealed on the basis that "an equivalent period of compensatory rest" must comprise one period lasting at least 20 minutes.

EAT decision

Relying on the decision of the Court of Appeal in Hughes v The Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd (weekly LELR 241), the EAT allowed the appeal, holding that Network Rail was in breach of its duty under regulation 24(a).

In Hughes, a security guard worked alone on site and was allowed to take breaks whilst always being on call. If his break was interrupted, he had to deal with the issue but was then allowed to start his break all over again. As the rest break entailed a break from work and was at least 20 minutes, the Court of Appeal held that his arrangement satisfied regulation 24(a).

On that basis, the EAT held that, as there were some shifts when Mr Crawford could not take a continuous break of 20 minutes and given that it was possible for Network Rail to solve the problem by providing a relief signaller, regulation 24(a) was not satisfied during those shifts.

It therefore allowed the appeal.