Commission publishes White Paper on sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive

In July 1997, the European Commission published a White Paper seeking to address the issue of working time and holiday regulation in sectors covered by derogations from the 1993 working time Directive. Here we examine the content of the White Paper in connection with action taken on these issues by trade unions representing road transport workers in the European Union and worldwide.

On 15 July 1997, the European Commission published a White Paper on Sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive. Directive 93/104/EC on certain aspects of the organisation of working time was adopted in November 1993 based on Article 118A of the Treaty of Rome. The aims of the Directive were to ensure that workers are protected against adverse effects on their health and safety caused by excessively long working hours, or having inadequate rest or disruptive working patterns. The Directive provides for

  • a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day;
  • a rest break where the working day is longer than six hours;
  • a minimum rest period of one day per week;
  • a maximum working week of 48 hours on average including overtime;
  • four weeks annual paid holiday;
  • a restriction of night work to no more than eight hours in 24 on average

The Directive provides for a number of sectors - employing approximately 5.6 million employees in the European Union - to be exempt from its provisions. These sectors are the following (these employment figures are approximate ones quoted in the White Paper):

  • road transport - with 3 500 000 employees;
  • rail transport - with 965 000 employees;
  • inland waterways - with 45 000 employees;
  • air transport - with 375 000 employees;
  • sea transport - with 160 000 employees;
  • sea fishing - with 270 000 employees;
  • other work at sea - with 45 000 employees; and
  • doctors in training - 270 000 employees.

In the White Paper, Commissioner Padraig Flynn argues that "the exclusion of certain categories of workers from the general protection provided by the Directive is is an anomaly which needs to be corrected". The White Paper has been prepared following informal consultation with the social partners and takes account of the European Court of Justice ruling in Case 84/94: UK v Council by which the Court rejected the United Kingdom Government's request to annul the working time Directive.

The White Paper examines four broad approaches to achieving the inclusion of currently excluded sectors into the Directives. These options are:

  1. a non-binding approach;
  2. a purely sectoral approach;
  3. a differentiated approach;
  4. a purely horizontal approach

Subject to comments on the White Paper, the Commission proposes to proceed on the basis of option three. Under this option, a distinction could be made between the activities which can be accommodated under the working time Directive and those which require specific measures. This would entail extending the full provisions of the working time Directive to all non-mobile workers. Appropriate adjustment of the derogations would be made to take account of the need for continuity of service and other operational requirements. It would also mean the extension to all mobile and offshore workers of the provisions of the working time Directive in relation to four weeks' paid annual leave, health assessments for night workers, the provision of a guarantee of adequate rest and for a maximum number of hours to be worked annually. The White Paper additionally envisages the introduction or modifying of specific legislation for each sector or activity concerning the working time and rest periods of mobile and offshore workers.

These proposals should be viewed in relation to a worldwide day of action organised by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) on 9 June 1997. The action aimed to highlight the problem of excessive working hours in the road transport industry and underline the unions' demand for new standards compatible with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 153, limiting working hours and guaranteeing proper rest periods. The result was a series of joint actions at various European borders in the form of barriers, go-slow operations, the handing out of leaflets and so on. These actions involved primarily hauliers from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and constituted the first European-wide coordinated trade union action in the road haulage industry.

The ITF criticises in particular the fact that regulations, where they exist, are often not enforced and current regulations on working time allow long working hours leading to health problems and accidents on the roads.

Neil Kinnock, the European Commissioner responsible for transport has signalled his support for these demands, arguing that there is a clear need to strengthen the social provisions for road transport. He highlighted in particular the importance of ensuring that current rules are applied effectively and complied with fully. In a letter to the secretary general of the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the EU, Mr Kinnock also stressed that debates in the Council on the introduction of a new generation of tachometers were well advanced. He stated that after a consultation period on the current White Paper, the Commission would table a proposal on the revision of the 1985 Regulation on working time in the sector. This will feature a proposal to include loading and unloading times in calculating the number of driving hours.

All European institutions will now be consulted on the White Paper, with the Commission inviting comments by 31 October 1997. The Commission is sending the White Paper to the social partners at European level for consultation and will subsequently consult management and labour on the content of any proposal envisaged.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment