EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Night work

Night work is defined by Directive 2003/88/EC of 4 November 2003 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time.

Article 2(4)(a) of Directive 2003/88/EC defines a ‘night worker’ as ‘any worker, who, during night time, works at least three hours of his daily working time as a normal course’. ‘Night time’ is defined in Article 2(3) as ‘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.’. Collective bargaining also plays a role in defining night workers, as Article 2(4)(b) states that a ‘night worker’ is:

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: (i) by national legislation, following consultation with the two sides of industry, or (ii) by collective agreements or agreements concluded between the two sides of industry at national or regional levels.

This statement allows for the category ‘night worker’ to be expanded to cover occasional night workers. It also gives freedom to reduce the duration and temporal incidence of night working. Both may be done by legislation (after consultation) or by collective agreement. EU standards on night work can thus be structured through collective agreements.

Article 8(1) of the Directive specifies the maximum duration of night work by prohibiting more than eight hours’ night working in a 24-hour period, on average. In addition, Article 8(2) goes on to specify that the work of night workers who are subject to special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain must be defined by national legislation and/or practice or by collective agreements concluded between the two sides of industry, taking account of the specific effects and hazards of night work.

Article 12 of the Directive stipulates that night workers must have a level of safety and health protection appropriate 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 pre-determined work rate. Employers who regularly use night workers must inform the competent health and safety authority.

The overview report from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), published by Eurofound in 2016, found that 19% of workers in the EU carry out night work – a figure that has not changed significantly since 2005. Night work is defined for the purposes of the EWCS as working two or more hours between 22:00 and 05:00 at least once a month. The sixth EWCS found that night work is more common among men (24%) – particularly if they are under 50 years of age – than among women (14%). The report notes that shift work and night work are associated with negative consequences for health and well-being, such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, fatigue, reduction in the quantity and quality of sleep, anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and premature birth, and cancer. Furthermore, the sixth EWCS found that workers are more likely to say that the balance between their work and private life is poor if they perform night work.

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

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