The European Court of Justice is to rule on a test case involving the working conditions of Humber pilots.
The case was referred after Associated British Ports appealed against an Employment Tribunal decision that pilots working on the estuary were wrongly being denied sufficient rest periods between shifts.
The case was brought by solicitors Bridge McFarland on behalf of pilot Daryl Bridgeman and the union Unite.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers must be allowed a “rest break” of at least 20 minutes once their daily working time exceeds six hours and must also be permitted to a “daily rest” of at least 11 hours in every 24 hour period. However, the regulations also grant certain exceptions for specific circumstances and industries.
All ships over 60 metres in length require a pilot when entering or leaving the estuary, which has about 30,000 shipping movements a year. Particularly busy periods coincide with high tides when pilots are regularly asked to work long hours with short breaks.
Both sides accepted that pilots were sometimes required to work longer hours than permitted under the regulations, but ABP argued that the work of marine pilots involved the need for continuity of service and therefore sought to rely on one of the exceptions.
The tribunal held that ABP was entitled to rely on this exception as far as rest breaks were concerned, but not in relation to daily rest.
Bridge McFarland partner and employment law specialist Richard Parnell said: “While we accept that the demand for the services of marine pilots fluctuates from week to week and day to day, we do not think it is acceptable regularly to require pilots to work such long hours with inadequate rest breaks. As well as the effect on the pilots and their family lives, there is, of course, the health and safety issue of asking tired individuals to perform the stressful job of bringing these enormous and valuable ships in and out of port.”