A North Sea union leader pledged last night that the fight to win paid holidays for thousands of offshore workers will go on, despite a setback at an employment appeal tribunal.
Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT union, said he is willing to take the issue to the highest courts in Britain and Europe.
He claims that about 14,000 North Sea workers are losing out on the right to four weeks annual paid leave.
John Taylor, regional industrial organiser of the T&G section of the Unite union, expressed concern that members might now call for industrial action to try to force the hand of oil bosses.
Industry body Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) said the tribunal had confirmed that time off work enjoyed by offshore workers, typically more than 26 weeks a year, more than meets the minimum legal amount of annual leave that employers must provide.
Malcolm Webb, chief executive of OGUK, said: “We welcome the decision by the employment tribunal which at last establishes a binding interpretation of the law on this issue and in the way we have always maintained it should be interpreted.
“We have no sense of triumph, this legal process has consumed a very great deal of effort and has cost our members well over £1million in legal fees and expenses. The unions have also spent considerable time and money and no doubt also incurred substantial legal costs.
“All this cost and uncertainty could have been avoided if the government had done what we repeatedly asked it to do at the outset, namely to issue UK regulations on this matter which were sensible, clear and unambiguous.
“Now that we have established what the true underlying legal position is on this matter, we and our colleagues in the unions can turn our full attention to more important matters and get on with tackling the very substantial challenges to jobs and investment in the UK offshore industry which we now face in these uncertain economic times.
Mr Molloy insisted the tribunal decision was wrong, however. “The decision will come as a major blow to all offshore workers who have been fighting for the right to paid leave since the early 1990s,” he said.
“Offshore workers currently work an average of 2,200 hours per year compared to the onshore average of around 1,700. All onshore workers, irrespective of shift patterns, enjoy an entitlement to paid leave of almost four weeks.
“The working time regulations were extended offshore in 2003 and since that date a series of tribunal hearings have taken place to determine how the regulations should be interpreted and applied.
“We will now sit down with our legal advisers to consider our next step. We are not prepared to give up the fight. We are willing to go to the Court of Session, the House of Lords and even the European Court of Justice.
“We would like to think we could get some constructive dialogue with OGUK before taking things that far.”