Sticking with the theme of transport based Respondents, our next case has shifted from airlines to train lines and concerns rest breaks and working time.

The question in this case is:

Does not having a continuous 20 minute rest break constitute a breach of the working time regulations?

For most jobs, rest breaks are covered by Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regs. This states that rest breaks should:

  1. Last 20 continuous minutes
  2. Allow the worker to leave their station
  3. Allow the worker to not be on-call
  4. Be taken during the shift

However, for transport schedulers, Regulation 24 applies, this states that if a worker has to work during a rest period they will be granted equivalent compensatory rest.

Mr Crawford, the Claimant, was a relief signalmen who worked alone at a signal station for Network Rail, the Respondent. Because he worked alone, the Claimant did not have scheduled breaks but was encouraged to take them when there was a natural lull in demand.

These breaks were usually five minute intervals between train signals and sometimes totalled more than 20 minutes on aggregate. However, the breaks were seldom 20 minutes of uninterrupted rest and the Claimant was still on call whilst taking a break.

The Claimant initiated ET proceedings because he was unable to take continuous breaks. The ET rejected the claim, it held that because the Claimant could take several five minute breaks, this amounted to equivalent rest under Regulation 24.

The Claimant appealed and the EAT allowed the appeal. It found that in this case the rest breaks the Claimant could take were not equivalent rest because they were not 20 minutes continuously. It held that the Respondent was in breach of Reg 24 for any shifts in which the Claimant was unable to take a 20 minute rest break.

The takeaway point:

For either Regulation 12 or 24, yes. Rest breaks or equivalent rest should be at least 20 minutes long. In this case the ET suggested a simple fix of having cover workers to allow workers to take uninterrupted rest breaks. Given this case found that the Claimant was due compensation for every shift where no continuous 20 minute break could be taken, it does highlight the importance of allowing staff to take breaks.