Guard wins right to take toilet breaks during shift

A security guard who was not allowed to take a lavatory break during a 12-hour shift won a "ground-breaking'' victory at an employment tribunal yesterday.

Gavin Ruddick began the action after discovering he had no rights to rest breaks during his shifts at an office block in Newcastle upon Tyne. His employer made clear that if property was damaged while he was away from his post, he would be blamed.

But an employment tribunal decided that employers could be in breach of the Human Rights Act if they stop workers going to the lavatory. The ruling means employees who are not covered by the European Working Time Directive will now be able to claim rights to rest breaks.

Mr Ruddick, 41, was employed by Reliance Security Services and worked at the offices of Zurich Financial Services. In 2001, he complained to Reliance that he was not entitled to any breaks during his 12-hour shifts.

When he launched a tribunal claim, he said that he had been victimised by his employer and demoted to working in a temporary building at a hospital car park.

Mr Ruddick, who still works for Reliance, says that the work is a lot "lower grade" and he is paid £4.25 an hour instead of the £4.85 he earned working at the office block.

The security guard, who was backed by the GMB union, used to work on the reception desk and was always conscious that he had to "get to the toilet and get back asap" or risk being blamed for any problems while he was away.

"It was impossible to last for 12 hours," he said yesterday. "This is a fantastic decision for security workers. It is important that workers understand it is their legal right to have a rest and not a favour bestowed on them by their employer."

Mr Ruddick said that the security industry should be run within the provisions of the Working Time Directive, which lays down that regular breaks have to be taken.

The Newcastle tribunal decided that although the security industry was not subject to the law that requires workers to have a 20-minute break every six hours, it must do the "next best thing", such as allowing a number of shorter rest periods or one longer break.

Employers could be in breach of the Human Rights Act if they prevented workers going to the lavatory, the tribunal said. In a written ruling, it said that Mr Ruddick's quality of life had been "severely impaired".

It will now consider how much compensation the security guard should receive. Lawyers involved in the case described the decision as "ground-breaking".

Joan Hoggins, spokeswoman for the GMB, said: "I could not believe it when Gavin approached me and said he was doing a 12-hour shift without the right to any rest breaks. This is a great success for security workers across the country."

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