Organisation of working time: basic Directive

The Directive lays down minimum general safety and health requirements for the organisation of working time. It also deals with periods of daily rest, breaks, weekly rest, annual leave and aspects of night work and shift work. Sectoral provisions exist for road transport, work at sea and civil aviation.

Directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time.

With a view to ensuring the clarity and transparency of Community law, this Directive consolidates the former basic Council Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993, as amended by Directive 2000/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 2000. It is designed to strike a balance between the principal objective of the health and safety of workers and the needs of a modern European economy.

Organisation of working time

Working time is the 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.

Member States take the measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to:

  • a minimum daily rest period *of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period;
  • a rest break, where the working day is longer than six hours;
  • a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours for each seven-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 four weeks.

In order to calculate weekly averages, Member States may lay down reference periods:

  • not exceeding 14 days for the weekly rest period;
  • not exceeding four months for maximum weekly working time;
  • with regard to the duration of night work, in consultation with the social partners or giving them this option by means of collective agreements.

Night work * is a special case, as its duration must not exceed an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period. As night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, it is governed by national legislation and/or practice or by collective agreements.

Night workers * must have a level of safety and health protection adapted to the nature of their work They are entitled to a free health assessment before being assigned to night work and thereafter at regular intervals. If they are deemed to be unsuited to night work, they must be transferred to day work where possible. Employers who organise work according to a certain pattern must take account of the general principle of adapting work to the worker, with a view, in particular, to alleviating monotonous work and work at a predetermined work-rate. Employers who regularly use night workers must bring this information to the attention of the competent health and safety authorities.

Derogations to the principles set out above may be adopted by means of collective agreements or agreements between the two sides of industry. Derogations may be granted:

  • with due regard for the general principles of protecting the safety and health of workers, where the duration of the working time is not measured and/or predetermined by the workers themselves;
  • in the case of certain activities, such as offshore activities , where the worker’s place of work and his place of residence are distant from one another;
  • in the case of security and surveillance activities intended to protect property and persons;
  • in the case of activities involving the need for continuity of service, such as hospital care, agriculture or press and information services;
  • where there is a foreseeable surge of activity, particularly in agriculture, tourism or postal services, and in the case of persons working in railway transport;
  • provided that a period of compensatory rest is granted:
    • in accordance with the criteria set out in the Directive, for example in the case of activities involving the need for continuity of service or production;
    • by means of collective agreements or agreements between the two sides of industry.

Derogations from reference periods for calculating weekly working time may not exceed six months, or, in the case of a collective agreement, twelve months.

A Member State may authorise an employer to derogate from the maximum of 48 hours of work per week, provided the worker agrees. No worker is to be subjected to any detriment because of his refusal to give such agreement. The employer undertakes to keep a record of all workers who have agreed to exceed the maximum weekly working hours, and this record is to be at the disposal of the competent authorities. The general principles of health and safety must be observed.

Special provisions apply to certain sectors of employment:

  • mobile workers *and offshore activities: provisions on daily rest, breaks, weekly rest and night work do not apply to mobile workers, but Member States guarantee adequate rest in line with guidelines provided by the Directive. Reference periods for offshore workers may be extended to twelve months for calculating the maximum weekly working hours;
  • workers on board fishing vessels: provisions on daily rest, maximum weekly working time and night work do not apply to workers on board a fishing vessel of a Member State, but average weekly working time must not exceed 48 hours over a reference period of one year. Maximum working time is 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period. Minimum hours of rest are ten hours daily and 77 hours weekly Maximum hours in both these areas are laid down by national provisions, collective agreements and agreements with the social partners. The Commission will review the provisions in this field no later than 2009;
  • doctors in training: a transitional period of five years as of 1 August 2004 has been arranged for doctors in training. In the first three years of this period, weekly working time must not exceed an average of 58 hours. In the following two years it must not exceed an average of 56 hours. A sixth transition year may be granted to some Member States and, in this case, weekly working time must not exceed an average of 52 hours. At the end of this transition period the ceiling will be 48 hours per week.

The Member States and the Commission report every five years on the practical implementation of the Directive.

Key terms used in the act
·         Working time: 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;

·         Rest period: any period which is not working time;

·         Night time: any period of not less than seven hours, as defined by national law, and which must include, in any case, the period between midnight and 05.00;

·         Night worker:
a. on the one hand, any worker, who, during night time, works at least three hours of his daily working time as a normal course;
b. on the other, any worker who is likely during night time to work a certain proportion of his annual working time, as defined at the choice of the Member State concerned:

·         by national legislation, following consultation with the two sides of industry; or

·         by collective agreements or agreements concluded between the two sides of industry at national or regional level;

·         Mobile worker: any worker employed as a member of travelling or flying personnel by an undertaking which operates transport services for passengers or goods by road, air or inland waterway;

·         Offshore work: work performed mainly on or from offshore installations (including drilling rigs), directly or indirectly in connection with the exploration, extraction or exploitation of mineral resources, including hydrocarbons, and diving in connection with such activities, whether performed from an offshore installation or a vessel;

·         Adequate rest: this means that workers have regular rest periods, the duration of which is expressed in units of time and which are sufficiently long and continuous to ensure that they do not, as a result of fatigue or other irregular working patterns, cause injury to themselves, to fellow workers or to others and that they do not damage their health, either in the short term or in the longer term.



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