UNION leaders have welcomed a landmark employment ruling that they believe will ensure Scottish ambulance staff will get adequate rest while on-call.

Relief ambulance paramedics Paul Truslove and Ellouise Wood pursued the Scottish Ambulance Service for compensation over a breach of their rest entitlements under the 1998 Working Time Regulation, because managers felt that their on-call night cover duties while away from home were not considered to be working hours.

They calculated that in one survey of their hours in 2009, Mr Truslove had accumulated 97 consecutive working hours while Ms Wood worked 48.

The working time regulations state that workers are entitled to a rest period of not less than 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour period.

Although Mr Truslove and Ms Wood worked normally from a base station in Elgin, which is manned by a 24 hour shift rota, both were sometimes required to provide nightly on call cover for the Dufftown and Tomintoul areas of Banffshire after day shifts.

An original Employment Tribunal judged that despite requirements for them to take accommodation when on-call with an aim to respond to emergencies within a target time of three minutes, this would still be considered to be a rest period.

But the Honourable Mr Justice Langstaff overturned the previous decision in April, ruling the previous judgement as an "error of law" and defining that those on-call were working.

He said it was clear that the time of the claimants was not their own whilst on this duty.

Unite hailed the judgement as "a significant victory for workers' rights and patient safety".

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: "We are working through implementation plans, in partnership with staff representatives, to ensure that appropriate ambulance cover will be maintained."

Mr Justice Langstaff said: "If a worker is obliged to be away from home, or even in some circumstances to remain at or within a very close distance from home, time is that much less his own," he said.

"The time is all the more under the control of the employer.

"To that extent the worker has less relief from employment and those aspects of it which might be stressful, physically and perhaps more particularly mentally.

"The relaxation which is available in the company of family and friends (or at least may be) and the pursuit of personal hobbies and the like, all characterised by the exercise of free choice, free from the direction of the employer, is unavailable where an employee remains shackled by his employer to a particular location and is subject whilst there to providing an immediate response to his employer's bidding."

Scottish Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay added: "This is a great triumph for those working for the ambulance service and guarantees that they will be treated fairly and given appropriate rest periods."

"We know that our ambulance crews work hard and they deserve to be afforded proper working conditions. So it's unfortunate that these cases had to go this far.

"There's an issue of patient safety here that can't be ignored when staff have been on call for long periods of time and the SAS must make sure that patient care is always the top priority ,and not cost-saving exercises.

"I commend Unite for pushing forward this appeal and securing what is a milestone victory for workers rights."