UK government in breach of working time law08 February 2001
British government in breach of European Union law by denying freelance workers and those on short-term contracts the right to four weeks paid annual leave.
Groundbreaking opinion issued today by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice states that the European Working Time Directive precludes national legislation from excluding groups of workers from the rights that it gives them.
The UK government excluded employees from accruing their rights to paid annual leave under the Working Time regulations until they had completed a qualifying period of employment of 13 weeks with their employer.
Millions of freelance and contract workers, including media workers, teachers and cleaners, were denied a right to take paid leave as a result.
Broadcasting and entertainment union Bectu became the first individual trade union ever to take the government to the European Court to have its policy ruled as unlawful.
Bectu's lawyers Thompsons are confident the European Court will uphold the opinion when it makes its final ruling in a few months.
Roger Bolton, general secretary of Bectu welcomed the advocate general's decision.
"This opinion means that the sun will now shine on millions of workers including television and film freelancers. It will give them the right to annual leave - something that they would not have enjoyed if Bectu had not taken this case to the wire.
"The government were wrong to exclude these employees from the annual leave provision of the working time directive if they had less than 13 weeks service with their employer.
"The Prime Minister has often spoken about the famed flexibility of the UK labour workforce. Our freelance members are the ultimate flexible workers and it is unfair that they should be punished for this flexibility."
Stephen Cavalier, head of Employment Rights at Thompsons, said the opinion was a major victory that would ensure that British workers would now have the same rights as those in other European Countries.
He said: "We welcome today's opinion. The way in which our government implemented the Working Time directive in respect of holiday entitlement was never justified. By giving freelance workers and those on short term contracts fewer rights than their full-time colleagues or those on long-term contracts the government turned them into a second class of employee and gave employers a green light to exploit the use of these kind of contracts in order to avoid their obligations."