Union wins legal fight on holidays

BECTU has beaten the UK government and won holiday rights for freelancers.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has today (June 26) ruled that the UK government is in breach of European employment law in denying freelance workers and those on short-term contracts the right to four weeks paid annual leave.

A legal challenge against the UK's legislation was launched by BECTU in 1999. Now, thousands of BECTU members, and millions of workers in other unions, can expect changes in the law which will guarantee paid holidays regardless of their length of contract.

Shortly after the ECJ delivered its judgement, the UK Department of Trade and Industry, the ministry responsible for the working time rules, announced that it would immediately begin consultations with employers and unions over the legislative changes necessary to comply with the Court's ruling.

Employment relations Minister Alan Johnson said he was hoping to introduce a system of accrued leave, under which two days holiday would be earned with every month of employment.

Members of the Court accepted an opinion issued in February by the Advocate General of the ECJ which stated that the European Working Time Directive precludes national governments from excluding groups of workers from the rights that the directive gives them.

Read full Court judgement

Under legislation introduced in 1998, the UK government excludes employees from accruing their rights to paid annual leave under the Working Time regulations until they have completed a qualifying period of employment of 13 weeks with their employer.

Millions of freelance and contract workers, including media workers, teachers and cleaners, were denied a right to take paid leave as a result.

BECTU's legal case was the first ever instance of an individual trade union winning a case against the UK government at the European Court of Justice.

BECTU's lawyers Thompsons, the leading trade union law firm, say that the government was wrong to wait for the ECJ ruling and is calling on ministers to change the law without delay.

Stephen Cavalier, head of employment rights at Thompsons said: "The way in which our government implemented the Working Time directive in respect of holiday entitlement was never justified. The government should act now to change the law rather than wait to be forced by British Courts."

Roger Bolton, general secretary of BECTU, said: "Our members, along with millions of other workers, have been treated as second-class citizens by the government's decision to exclude them from the same holiday rights that other employees enjoy. We urge the UK government to amend its working time legislation immediately."

26 June 2001