Is an employer entitled to meet the 20 minute rest break requirement for workers under the Working Time Regulations by aggregating breaks of a shorter duration?
No, held the EAT in Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd.
Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 provides for a rest break of not less than 20 minutes if a worker's daily working time is more than 6 hours. Regulation 21(f) provides that a worker in Railway Transport does not enjoy the protection of Regulation 12. Instead, under Regulation 24(a), the worker is entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest.
Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman at various signal boxes in the South East. All (save one) boxes were single manned. Although Mr Crawford was not always busy, he was required to continuously to monitor and to be on call to do things when trains were going through.
He could in practice, if he wished, take short 5 minute breaks from his workstation which would amount together to well in excess of 20 minutes over the shift as a whole. But on day shifts it was not possible to have a continuous 20 minute break. The employer argued it could aggregate these shorter periods in order to meet the 20 minute break requirement. Indeed, it argued, this was more beneficial, from a health and safety point of view.
Relying on Hughes v The Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, the EAT held that the employer's system was not compliant. In Hughes the Court of Appeal held that there should be a proper uninterrupted break from work during a rest period and, so far as possible, that break should last at least 20 minutes. Otherwise it would not be an equivalent period of compensatory rest. It was important that, during the rest period, the worker was free from work.
Accordingly, as there was no opportunity on Mr Crawford's shifts for a single continuous break from work of 20 minutes, Network Rail were in breach of their obligations under the Working Time Regulations.
Thanks to Dr John McMullen of Wrigleys Solicitors LLP for preparing this case summary.