EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Shift work

Shift work involves a regular work schedule during which an enterprise is operational or provides services beyond the normal working hours and where different crews of workers succeed each other at the same work site to perform the same operations. Shift work usually involves work in the early morning, at night or at the weekend; the weekly rest days might not coincide with the normal rest days.

Council Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time (as amended by Directive 2000/34 of 22 June 2000) defines shift work (Article 2(5)) as ‘any method of organising work in shifts whereby workers succeed each other at the same work stations according to a certain pattern, including a rotating pattern, and which may be continuous or discontinuous, entailing the need for workers to work at different times over a given period of days or weeks’. Shift work is subject to the directive’s general requirements as to: minimum daily rest periods, maximum daily working hours, minimum rest periods during working hours, weekly rest periods, and maximum weekly hours.

Occasionally, these are less favourable to shift workers. Derogation, by laws, regulations or administrative provisions, or by means of collective agreements (though with equivalent compensatory periods) is possible with respect to otherwise mandatory minimum 11-hour daily rest periods and minimum 35-hour weekly rest periods. Article 17(2.3) provides for derogation from these:

(a) in the case of shift work activities, each time the employee changes shift and cannot take daily and/or weekly rest periods between the end of one shift and the start of the next one;

(b) in the case of activities involving periods of work split up over the day, particularly those of cleaning staff.

Where shift work also entails night work, the relevant provisions will apply, sometimes with special force, as in the general provision requiring that ‘night workers whose work involves special hazards or heavy physical and mental strain do not work more than eight hours in any period of 24 hours during which they perform night work’. Shift work is also linked together with night work in the general provisions of Article 12 in terms of safety and health protection.

Two factors must be taken into account when organising shifts: the general principle of adaptation of work to the worker (the ‘humanisation of work’); and health and safety requirements. Studies show that shiftwork and shifts with extended hours can have significant adverse effects on health, workplace accident rates, absenteeism and a worker’s personal life.

See also: health and safety; rest periods; stress at work; working time.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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