New agreement on working time in inland waterways

On 15 February 2012, the EU-level social partners in the inland waterways sector signed an agreement setting out specific rules governing working time for workers on passenger or cargo transport ships in inland waterways across the EU. The agreement, which was amicably reached by the partners, covers weekly working time, night working, holidays and daily and weekly rest periods. The agreement means that the Working Time Directive will no longer apply to this sector.


EU-level sectoral social partners in the inland waterways sector concluded an agreement (in German, 772Kb PDF) on February 15. It was signed by the European Barge Union (EBU) and the European Skippers’ Organisation (ESO) representing the employers’ side, and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) representing the workers’ side.

Although the EU Working Time Directive contains provisions relating to issues such as rest periods, daily rest, weekly rest and night working, the social partners in the inland waterways sector felt that the Directive did not adequately cover the specific conditions that apply to their sector.

For example, workers routinely live aboard the boat on which they are working and prefer to work for many consecutive days, rather than to commute back home in between shifts. In situations where working days and time off are worked on a 1:1 basis, the number of consecutive working days can be higher than in other sectors.

Working time can also be characterised by high levels of unplanned downtime such as waiting at locks, or loading and unloading, which can take place at night. This means that daily and weekly working time limits can be set higher.

Consequently, the social partners in this sector have now agreed their own more flexible regulations. This will supersede the Working Time Directive in this sector, as provided for under the Directive’s Article 14, which states that the Directive will not apply where other Community instruments contain more specific requirements relating to the organisation of working time for certain occupations or occupational activities.

The signatories to the new agreement state their view that this will enhance working conditions for workers in the inland waterways sector, which they note is a sector characterised by a high level of European integration and which can offer a real and environmentally-friendly alternative to the road and rail transport of goods and passengers in the EU.

Scope and content of the agreement

The agreement covers both crew members and shipboard personnel, such as hotel and catering workers on board a passenger transport ship. It sets out the following limits on working time and rest periods.

  • The normal working day is eight hours, although daily working time may be extended, as long as it does not exceed 14 hours in any 24 hour period and 84 hours in any seven-day period.
  • Working time may not exceed 48 hours per week, although this may be averaged out. Over a 12 month period, average weekly working time must not exceed 48 hours, while within a four month period, average weekly working time may not exceed 72 hours;
  • Annual working time is 2,304 hours.
  • No more than 31 consecutive days may be worked. The agreement contains provisions relating to the number of rest days that are earned by consecutive working days.
  • Total night working time may not exceed 42 hours per week.
  • Workers have a right to at least four weeks’ paid annual leave.
  • Workers have a right to paid annual health checks.
  • Workers have a right to at least 10 hours’ rest every day (at least six hours of which must be uninterrupted) and at least 84 hours’ rest in total every week, although some weekly rest days may temporarily be postponed, provided that minimum standards relating to weekly rest are respected.
  • Workers have a right to a rest break after six hours of work.
  • In an emergency, crew can be required to undertake any work necessary to ensure the safety of the vessel, passengers or cargo, until the normal situation is restored.

The signatory parties to this agreement will now ask the Commission for it to be made legally binding in the EU, under Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (1.41Mb PDF). Similar specific EU working time rules have already been agreed by European social partners for workers in agriculture, civil aviation and in cross-border rail transport, and for seafarers.


The ETF has welcomed what it describes as the high level of workers’ protection laid down in the agreement and the positive atmosphere in which the agreement was established.

Nick Bramley, President of the ETF Inland Waterways section, commented:

With this agreement, the sector finally has a European-wide arrangement on working time that offers the possibility to mould the implementation according to specific sector-related needs between clear boundaries while protecting the social conditions.

The EBU considers the agreement to be a ‘major step forward’ for the sector.

Commentators note that the conclusion of this agreement shows social partners are able to agree on working time issues, which is encouraging for ongoing cross-sectoral negotiations on this topic (EU1111051I).

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment