Give us a break04 November 2004
A railway worker has won damages of over £3,000 in a case that strengthens workers' entitlement to rest breaks.
The London Central Tribunal unanimously found that Heathrow Express had breached the entitlement of a customer services supervisor to rest breaks in accordance with Regulation 12 (1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998.
Keith Norman, ASLEF acting general secretary said: 'ASLEF is delighted with this outcome to a very important case. The union was determined to establish the right of workers in highly stressful and responsible railway jobs to adequate rest breaks. This affects not only for the safety of passengers but the health of our members. It highlights the sense of injustice felt by the many other groups of transport workers excluded from the protection of the regulations.'
Anita Vadgama of Thompsons Solicitors said: 'This is a timely warning to employers that trade unions and their lawyers will take swift action to protect workers' rights to rest breaks and a decent work/life balance.'
Keith Norman added: 'ASLEF is determined to go on fighting for the rights of these members, and all others denied rest breaks.'
Mrs Angela Holland is a customer service supervisor. She has a highly responsible job with the company that runs trains between Paddington Station and Heathrow airport. Each of three station areas is staffed by customer services supervisors at all times. They work to a demanding shift pattern (6am to 2.30pm) (2pm to 10.30pm) (10pm to 6.30am). Customer service supervisors are trained to take over driving a train in an emergency.
Mrs Holland's employers failed to provide cover for her to have the statutory 20 minute rest break to which she was entitled. Instead, she had to take rest breaks when she was on call and having to listen to her radio. There was no guarantee that she would not be interrupted during any break.
The tribunal dismissed arguments by the company that because Mrs Holland's duties included a small element of security and surveillance, this fell within the exceptions allowed by the regulations. Nor did the tribunal agree that the company's failure to provide cover for breaks caused by long term sickness could be said to be an unusual and unforeseen circumstance.
Heathrow Express is appealing the decision of the tribunal. Up to 15 other cases are stayed pending that appeal.