28th Nov 2021

EU court says work journey can be working time

  • Traffic jam? Make your boss pay, EU judges have ruled (Photo: EUobserver)

The journeys made by workers with no fixed or habitual place of work at the beginning and the end of the day are to be considered as working time, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday (10 September).

The Luxembourg-based judges considered that when such a worker goes from their home to the first customer of the day and goes back home after the last customer, this cannot be counted as a rest period as defined by the EU Working Time Directive.

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"The Working Time Directive defines working time as any period during which the worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his activity or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice," the judges wrote in their ruling.

The Court considered that workers with no fixed working place "carry out their activity or duties over the whole duration of those journeys".

"Not taking those journeys into account (…) would distort that concept and jeopardise the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers," it said.

The case had been brought to the court by Comisiones Obreras, Spain's largest trade union, against Tyco Integrated Security, a security system installation company.

Tyco considered that its employees, who travel to appointments with a company vehicle, were not working before and after the first and last appointment of the day.

"The distances between the workers' homes and the places where they are to carry out work vary a great deal and are sometimes more than 100 kilometres, taking up to three hours to drive," the judges noted in their ruling.

The situation stemmed from Tyco's decision to close its regional offices in the Spanish provinces and to assign its employees to its central offices in Madrid. But the working area assigned to workers "consist of all or part of the province in which they work and sometimes more than one province".

This specific case could have implications on the application of the Working Time Directive, which limits the working time to 48 hours a week on average, with a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours every 24 hours.

The directive was adopted in 2003 after many years of debate and strong opposition from Britain. British law introduced an opt-out of the 48 hours rule, by which employees can voluntarily ask to work more than the EU limit.

The ECJ ruling could enter the wider debate on EU-UK relations ahead of the UK referendum on EU membership to be held before 2017.

An MEP from British PM David Cameron's conservative party, Anthea McIntyre, said that the ruling "should ring alarm bells".

"We do not need a straightjacket law imposed from Europe. That just shackles employers and workers alike and puts a dead hand on job-creation and growth," she said in a statement.

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