In a relatively low-profile case this week, a tribunal ruled that payments for entirely voluntary duties, such as voluntary overtime, standby, call-out work and travel-time linked to that work, should be included in the calculation of workers’ holiday pay. This comes on the back of a similar ruling a few years ago, which first established the principle that anyone who regularly works overtime should have that taken into consideration when getting their holiday pay.
“Today’s ruling is of major significance to workers nationally, many of whom receive payments for voluntary duties while working, but do not receive those payments when they take holiday. It sets a legal binding precedent which employment tribunals across the UK are obliged to follow.
The case against Dudley council involved 56 Unite members employed by the council as tradesmen, including plumbers, electricians and carpenters, working on maintaining Dudley’s housing stock.
They worked regular overtime, including on Saturdays, on a purely voluntary basis. They also elected to go on a standby rota every four weeks to deal with emergency call-outs and repairs.
In some cases their earnings for this additional voluntary work amounted to around £6,000 a year on top of their basic salary. While they would receive these payments while working, these amounts were not included in their holiday pay. The underpayments of holiday pay suffered by each claimant varied depending on how much voluntary work they performed between around £350 and £1,500 per year.
Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett, said: “Today’s landmark victory further clarifies the law on holiday pay and is of major significance to workers across the UK. It means employers must now include all earnings, including payments for voluntary duties and overtime, in calculating holiday pay.””
And to recycle some of my own commentary from the previous tribunal case:
“Our legal rights are only ever worth anything if we have the organisational strength on the ground to enforce them, so the most interesting question about this story is whether it has the potential to spread organisation and confidence among rank-and-file workers. At the most basic level, this is a story that it’d be good to start conversations with our co-workers about: it’s a convenient, practical way to open up conversations about our shared material interests, how much of our lives we sell to our bosses and how little we get back in return, not at a hopelessly abstract level but in very immediate terms.
Things like the TUC’s pay rise demonstration can feel like quite vague political gestures, the relevance of this to our own lives is immediately obvious, and what it says about the bigger picture is worth discussing as well: at a time when workers across the UK are divided along all kinds of lines, and various forms of divide-and-rule ideology are deepening their hold, this issue is one that draws a straightforward line between workers and our bosses, and the reaction of the government has made it clear what side they’re on.
Getting extra money from our employers is a good thing, and the chance to do so shouldn’t be missed; getting together with our co-workers to discuss how we’re going to get extra money from our employers, the ways they’re likely to try and cheat us out of it, and what we can do to support each other against our bosses’ tricks, could yet be the start of something really interesting.”