EU level: ECJ rules that travel time is treated as working time

Unions have welcomed a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that travel time for mobile workers should be treated as working time. Employer organisations have not commented, but the UK's umbrella national employer organisation, the CBI, has said it is vital the UK’s opt-out from the EU working time directive is retained.

Background

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Case C-266/14 involving Spanish security firm Tyco on 10 September 2015.

Tyco installs and maintains security systems. It closed its regional offices in 2011 and attached all its employees to its central office in Madrid. Its technicians now travel every day by company vehicle from their homes to their clients in the geographical area assigned to them, returning home at the end of each day. The distances travelled can sometimes be more than 100 km, with travelling time sometimes reaching more than three hours a day. However, Tyco counted the time spent by employees travelling between home and clients as a rest period. They calculated working time from the moment of arrival at the premises of the first customer of the day, until departure from the premises of the last customer of the day (including time travelled between customers). However, before the regional offices closed, Tyco used to count working time from when employees arrived at the regional office to pick up the vehicle, until they returned the vehicle to the offices in the evening.

The Spanish trade union Workers Commissions (CCOO) took the case to a Spanish labour court asking that travelling time should be treated as working time. The matter went to the Spanish National High Court (Audiencia Nacional) which subsequently referred it to the ECJ.

ECJ ruling

The ECJ ruled that, where workers do not have a fixed or habitual place of work, time spent travelling each day between their homes and the premises of the first and last customers does constitute working time. Its ruling is based on its interpretation of the European Working Time Directive.

The ECJ reasoned that not taking those journeys into account would enable Tyco to claim that only the time spent carrying out the activity of installing and maintaining the security systems could be seen as working time, which would be a distortion of that concept and would also jeopardise the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers. The ECJ also reasoned that, during those journeys, the workers are at the employer’s disposal, unable to use their time freely or pursue their own interests.

Trade unions welcome ruling

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomed the judgement, stating that workers without a fixed workplace will now have to be paid for travel time. Confederal Secretary Veronica Nilsson said, ‘the European Court of Justice has dealt a blow against the exploitation of workers. This is good news for many home care workers, repair and maintenance staff and other mobile workers.’ 

The European arm of Uni Global Union, Uni-Europa, which represents many of the workers who will be affected by this, has also hailed the ruling as important for care workers across Europe, and more widely in the context of the changing landscape of care work worldwide. The union believes that this ruling could affect millions of workers since it establishes that time taken to get to clients is working time, and should be compensated as such. Uni-Europa goes on to say that companies employing care workers, and especially those that deliver home care services, will need to ensure that they are not breaching the Working Time Directive, and that workers should take up this issue with their employers.

Employers express reservations

This ruling could have significant implications for companies that employ mobile workers who spend a lot of time travelling between appointments. Employers that are expected to be particularly affected include those operating in the care sector, or those who have staff such as travelling sales representatives and domestic utilities engineers.

The Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope) does not comment on individual ECJ rulings but in the UK, where individual workers can sign an opt-out from maximum weekly working time under the Working Time Directive, employer representatives have criticised this ruling. They argue that it is another reason why the opt-out is vital. Neil Carberry, Director for Employment and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said, ‘given that this ruling extends working time, it again emphasises that the voluntary individual opt-out from working time rules is a vital part of ensuring the system works in the UK. We want to see the opt-out protected.’

This case is particularly important in the context of Eurofound research showing that the growing use of portable information and communication technologies is changing the way work is organised and what constitutes a person’s main place of work. The boundaries between periods of working time and non-working time are becoming increasingly blurred, making it ever more difficult to measure working time and apply the provisions of the Working Time Directive.

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