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Labouring Into 2011

  • December 26th, 2010
  • Posted by EUEditor

child-labour-19c.jpgEuropean workers have the world’s strongest protection of their hours and time off, but a recent EU report has identified blind spots warranting change.


The European Commission says that the law governing working conditions (Directive 2003/88/EC) sets maximum working hours at 48 hours per week, sets out minimum daily rest hours (11 hour breaks and 35 hours straight for weekend breaks); requires at least four weeks annual paid leave, and provides extra protection for night workers.

A review based on a major survey including consultation with stakeholders in 2008 has been published, setting out problems with implementation.

  • It says workers in public service fields like defence, health and schools have been found, excluded from the right to the defined rest periods. (This has occurred in Belgium, Greece, Hungary and Austria).
  • Where there is a provision for rostering shorter then longer hours at certain times in an agreed period, meant to average out, proper rest compensation has not been given (in Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Latvia).
  • Delays have occurred in providing compensatory rest, (in Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, Luxembourg and Malta. Court decisions affecting up to eleven states have weakened the compensation provision to make it not legally binding, notably in  Belgium, Germany and Latvia.
  • Problems have also been encountered defining “on call” time for workers held on standby for extended periods while not on the job; and also for contracted working conditions, e.g. where workers have signed contracts on more than one job; or, as in  Hungary, cases where they have agreed to work for periods of 60 to 72 hours.


work-europe-euronews.jpgWhile an overall high standard of working conditions and rights is at the core of European practice, the list of problems shows there is ample scope for industrial relations to come up afresh as a political and legal battleground.

The Europe-wide law sets out rules of engagement in a context of relatively high unemployment and effects of recession, contending ideologies and conflict of interests.

However the European Commission review says many member states have worked to achieve compliance with the present labour law, since its introduction five years ago.

It notes that the large majority of workers in the 27 EU countries are on terms consistent with the Directive, with in many cases national policies actually offering greater protection than it requires.



  • It says the EC will be working to reduce the large number of cases where employers have been able to opt out of provisions to deliver compersatory rest to staff in 24 hour services, especially those serving on call.
  • It will be clarifying the interpretation of some rules, taking into account both court findings and information from stakeholders such as government offices and national organisations like unions.
  • It will be monitoring individual member states’ performances; standing procedure for the executive Commission, which in different areas may impose sanctions such as major fines on member governments, for non-compliance wioth European law.


EC, Brussels, Report from the Commission … on implemention by member states of Dirfectivbe 2003/88/EC (‘The Working Time Directive’). SEC (2010) 1611.  BXL-COM (2010) 802/3; 21.12.10. See, (26.12.10).

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