French working time rules illegal
Abdelkader Dellas and others v Premier Ministre, European Court of Justice, 1 December 2005
This case looked at whether on-call duty should count as ‘working time’, for the purposes of compliance with working time legislation, even if the work was of a low intensity.
Mr Dellas, a special needs teacher in a residential establishment, was dismissed by his employer following disagreements over the definition of ‘actual work’ and the remuneration due for time spent performing residential on-call night work. In France, weekly working time is limited to 44 hours averaged over 12 consecutive weeks. The European Working Time Directive (WTD) only requires weekly working time to be limited to 48 hours averaged over a four-month period. Dellas brought proceedings challenging the lawfulness of the French working time laws. The matter was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The ECJ ruled that the French system was incompatible with the directive. Dellas’s periods of on-call duty at the workplace should have been taken into account in their entirety when calculating maximum daily and weekly working time permitted by the directive. Citing earlier decisions (SIMAP and Jaegar), the ECJ ruled that on-call duty performed by a worker where they are required to be physically present on the employer’s premises must be regarded in its entirety as ‘working time’, regardless of the work actually done.
Last year’s proposals at European level to revise the WTD included plans to introduce a new concept of ‘inactive on-call time’. Where a worker was on-call at their workplace, but effectively not required to carry out duties, such time would not be regarded as ‘working time’, unless otherwise agreed. However, member states have not yet been able to agree on a revised directive.