Feature European Working Time Directive

Battles in time

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39167.513148.47 (Published 12 April 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:770
  1. Rory Watson, freelance journalist
  1. Brussels
  1. RoryWatson{at}compuserve.com

    How the European Working Time Directive will be implemented across Countries is yet to be fully resolved, as Rory Watson explains

    European legislation on working time and the maximum 48 hour working week is currently languishing in a no man's land. The battle between supporters of the opt-out from its provisions, led by the United Kingdom, and opponents to such a move, championed by France, has resulted in a stalemate in efforts to update measures that were first introduced in 1998.

    At the same time, national governments are having to take into account rulings from the Luxembourg based European Court of Justice, which interprets the legislation. The two most important are SIMAP (Sindicato de Médicos de Asistencia Pública) (2000) and Jaeger (2003). These held that on-call duty performed by a doctor when required to be physically present in the hospital must be regarded as working time.

    These rulings are having a direct effect on countries such as France, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, and Hungary, which traditionally did not calculate all periods of on-call time towards the working week. The court has also ruled on the compensatory rest that employers must give their staff when they work longer hours than usual.

    The European Commission has written to the governments of all 27 countries in the European Union, asking them what provisions they have put in place to comply with the Luxembourg judgments and the financial costs of doing this. In particular, it has highlighted four issues: the reference period (used to calculate average 48 hour work week), resting period, on-call time, and multiple contracts.


    The deadline for replies was the end of March, but few will be surprised if this slips. On the basis of the information, the commission will have to decide whether national procedures are now in line with the …

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