Working Time

The EU working time directives lay down general requirements in relation to the organization of working time. It deals with provisions of daily, weekly, rest, annual leave, night work and shift work. Working time is the period during which the worker is working at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activity and duties in accordance with national laws and practice.

States must take measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to

  • minimum daily rest of 11 consecutive hours per 24 hour period.
  • a rest work where the working day is longer than 6 hours.
  • a minimum uninterrupted rest period for 24 hours for each 7 day period, which is added to the 11 hours daily rest.
  • maximum weekly working time of 48 hours including overtime.
  • paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks.

In order to calculate weekly averages, states may lay down reference periods

  • not exceeding 14 days for the weekly rest period.
  • not exceeding 4 months for the maximum weekly working time.

Atypical Hours

Night workers must have a level of safety and health protection adapted to the nature of their work. They are entitled to free health assessment before being assigned to night work and thereafter at regular intervals. If they are deemed unsuitable to night work, they must be transferred to day work where possible.

Employers who organize work according to a certain pattern must take account of the general principle of adapting work to the worker with a view to alleviating monotonous work and work at predetermined rates. Employers who use night workers regularly must bring this to the attention of the health and safety authorities.

Derogations may be adopted by collective agreements or agreements between workers and employers

  • with due regard to the general principles of health, safety, and welfare at work.
  • in the case of certain activities such as offshore activities, when the place of work and place of residence are distant from one another.
  • in the case of security or surveillance activities intended to protect property or persons.
  • in the case of activities involving continuity of service such as hospital care, agriculture, press and information services.
  • where there are foreseeable shortages of activity, particularly in agriculture, tourism, or postal services.

provided there is a period of compensatory rest granted in accordance with criteria set out in the directive.

States may authorize an employer to derogate from the maximum of 48 hours of work per week, provided the worker agrees. No employee is to be subject to a detriment because of his refusal to agree. Employers must keep records of workers who have agreed to exceed the maximum weekly working hours and this must be put at the disposal of the competent authorities.

The provisions on daily rest breaks, weekly rest, and night work do not apply to mobile workers. States may guarantee adequate rest in line with guidelines provided in the directive.

The provisions on daily rest, weekly working time, and night work do not apply to workers on board a fishing vessel of a member state. The average weekly working time must not exceed 48 hours over a reference period of a year. The maximum working time is 14 hours in any 24 hour period and 72 hours in a 7 day period.

Doctors in training are subject to special transitional periods, for a five year period from 2004. At the end of the transition, the ceiling was to be 48 hours per week.

Mobile Workers

There is a directive covering the working time of persons performing mobile real-time support services. This covers all mobile workers performing such services employed by businesses established in the state. It also applies to self-employed drivers.

Average working time weekly may not exceed 48 hours. It may be extended to 60 hours only if the average of 48 hours is not exceeded within the period of 4 months. There is an obligation to take a break every 6 hours.

Daily working time may not exceed 10 hours for each period of 24 hours for night workers. Records must be kept of working time. States must ensure that measures are taken to ensure that the employer makes the prescribed information accessible to all employers Records of working time must be kept for at least a year.

There are particular directives for seafarers working times. They apply seafarers onboard sea-going ships registered in the EU and engaged in commercial maritime operations.

There are modified provisions in relation to maximum working hours, rest periods etc. There are exceptions where work may be required for the immediate safety of the ship, persons on board, or for the purpose of giving assistance to other ships.

The master of the ship must take necessary steps to ensure the rules are complied with. The shipowner must ensure the master is given the necessary resources.

Seafarers must possess a certificate attesting their fitness to work for the position they are employed for. They must have regular health assessments.

There is a broadly similar provision in respect of the organization of workers in civilian aviation. The directive provides at least four weeks annual leave and specific health and safety measures appropriate to the nature of the work. There must be a free health assessment for employees before they are assigned and thereafter at regular intervals.

Health and safety precautions appropriate to the nature of the work must be undertaken. A maximum annual working time of 2000 hours with a total flight time limited to 900 hours, spread as evenly as practical through the year is required. A certain number of days (7 days a month of at least 96 days per year) must be free of all service. The state may adopt more favorable terms.


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