Just what does the working time directive really say?

Everybody know that this limits the maximum working time to 48 hours a week but it covers rather more than that.

To begin with that 48 hours is an average usually over 17 weeks but that can be extended up to 52 weeks in some circumstances. Thus you could, in principle, be working, say, 60 hours for several weeks at a stretch yet still remain within the limits of the directive which I suspect is probably not what many people would think the directive allows.

In addition to the limits on the working week there’s also mandatory rest breaks. Work 6 hours or more and you must have a 20 minute break. For each 24 hour period you must get at least 11 consecutive hours of rest thus the maximum working day is effectively 13 hours. Finally you must have a minimum of a 24 hour break each week (or 48 hours per fortnight) ie you can only work 6 days a week on average.

For night time workers (ie those working at least three hours between midnight and 5am) there’s a few more rules including the right to a free health assessment and a maximum of an average of 8 hours per 24 hour period.

Finally, you’re entitled to a minimum of 4 weeks annual holiday.

So there’s quite a bit more to it than “a 48 hour week” and quite a lot of areas where it doesn’t work quite as you might expect. For instance, if you’re on-call then that only counts fully towards the 48 hours if you have to be in work: work from home and only the actual working time itself counts.

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