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UK government in breach of European employment law

Freelance and short term workers look set to win rights to paid holiday leave in a landmark ruling
Written by Andrew Swinton, Contributor

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the UK government has broken the law in denying freelance workers and short term workers the right to four weeks paid annual leave.

In a groundbreaking decision that will now land the government back in the British courts and force it to change the law, ECJ judges have upheld the opinion of the Advocate General that the European Working Time Directive prevents national governments from excluding groups of workers from the rights that the directive gives them. The ECJ is expected to back that opinion.

"The way the government brought in working time regulations in this country was to exclude anybody with less than 13 weeks employment with the same employer from the right to paid holiday leave," said Jennie Walsh at Thompsons -- the UK law firm which took the case on behalf of Bectu (the broadcasting and entertainment union).

"We challenged this and the European Court of Justice has said that the right to paid holiday leave is a right that all workers should enjoy from day one of employment," she added.

Stephen Cavalier, head of employment rights at Thompsons, said he was delighted with the ruling and called on the government to make immediate changes to the working time regulations.

Roger Bolton, general secretary of Bectu, said: "We are particularly pleased that the ECJ has concluded that workers on short-term contracts often find themselves in a more precarious situation than those employed under longer-term contracts and that it is all the more important to ensure that their health and safety is protected."

The case now goes back to the British court for ratification.

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