Skip to main content

Oil Workers (Annual Leave)

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that offshore oil workers receive their statutory annual leave entitlement. (95029)

In 1998, the Government introduced for the first time an entitlement to four weeks’ paid annual leave through the working time regulations, which came into force on 1 October this year.

We amended the regulations on 1 October 2006. That put beyond doubt the fact that the working time regulations apply to offshore workers on the UK part of the continental shelf. As my hon. Friend knows, that followed a dispute between employee representatives and employers over the jurisdiction of the original regulations.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. The recent amendment to the working time regulations is welcome and, as he says, puts beyond doubt the fact that they apply to all employees. However, Amicus has brought it to my attention that some offshore employers still try to prevent their employees from receiving full annual leave entitlement. They claim that onshore leave, which is effectively rest time, should be regarded as annual leave. That is as if an onshore employer claimed that weekends and bank holidays constituted annual leave. That is wrong and should be resisted. Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that offshore workers receive their full annual leave entitlement?

I do not disagree with the principle that my hon. Friend outlines of entitlement to appropriate annual leave. Indeed, we have just concluded consultation on ensuring that workers are entitled to their eight days of bank holidays as well as the four weeks for which we legislated in 1998. I know that some discussions are continuing between unions and the oil companies. We clarified the jurisdictional dispute that held up resolution to the disagreements and we hope that, as a result of doing that on 1 October, sensible discussions can take place between employee representatives, the oil companies and other companies that work offshore, so that they can arrive at satisfactory agreements for their staff.

I draw the House’s attention to my entries on the oil and gas industry in the Register of Members’ Interests.

The Under-Secretary said that the Government have now clarified the jurisdiction, but both sides would welcome clarification of the way in which they envisage the directive applying offshore. What assurance can the Department give about the implications of the Jaeger judgment and whether it would apply to the situation?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The SiMAP/Jaeger European Court of Justice rulings have an impact on many businesses and services in the United Kingdom. We are examining them carefully to ascertain whether they apply in the case that we are considering. In November, we expect an outstanding tribunal decision, which should provide additional clarity. We do not believe that SiMAP or Jaeger applies to the North sea as matters stand, but we are keen to see the results of the judgment as well as those of the further discussions in Europe about the operation of the two European Court of Justice judgments on working time in the UK.

The clarification of jurisdiction is welcome. However, my discussions with contractors in the summer show that they simply want the issue sorted out. They would like to know exactly how the regulations will work in practice and what they mean for their employees. In some cases, they would welcome the Government defining exactly what the regulations mean in practice. I appreciate that that is not necessarily the view of all the operators and others, but some were reaching it in the summer because of their frustration about the length of time that the issue is taking.

My hon. Friend ably describes the frustration of many involved in the industry about the inability to determine the nature of the agreement. We passed the amendment to the regulations on 1 October to clarify the jurisdictional difficulties that prevented proper negotiations. We do not believe that we have a role in negotiating what the leave arrangements should be but we felt that we had a role in clarifying the leave entitlements under law. Although it is early days yet, and we await the November employment tribunal judgment, we hope that, once it is out of the way, the employers and employee organisations can reach agreements that are satisfactory to both. We will not intervene in those negotiations but we are watching them carefully.