Union mounts legal challenge to working time Regulations

In January 1999, the film, broadcasting and theatre trade union, BECTU, was allowed to proceed with a legal challenge to the holiday entitlement provisions of the UK working time Regulations introduced in October 1998. The move could potentially force the government to amend the Regulations.

On 19 January 1999, the High Court gave the go-ahead for a legal challenge to the holiday entitlement provisions of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (UK9810154F) by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). The trade union has been granted leave for a judicial review of the Regulations. According to the union, the Department of Trade and Industry did not oppose a hearing and this is expected to take place within the next three to six months.

BECTU argues that, by restricting the statutory right to paid annual leave to workers who have been continuously employed for a 13-week qualifying period, the Regulations exclude from holiday entitlement freelance worker s and those on contracts of less than 13 weeks, and that this is incompatible with the requirements of the EU working time Directive (93/104/EC). Article 7 of the Directive provides that:

Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to paid annual leave of at least four weeks [or three weeks up until 23 November 1999] in accordance with the conditions for entitlement to, and granting of, such paid leave laid down by national legislation and/or practice.

It remains to be seen what interpretation will be placed on the wording of Article 7 by the courts.

BECTU says that it has around 15,000 members who are affected by the 13-week qualifying period and that "British workers have a right to the same minimum holiday entitlements as other freelance and contract workers across Europe". If the union's case is successful, the government would have to introduce amendments to the Regulations, which have been in force only since 1 October 1998.

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