Legal Q&A: Working Time Regulations

By Mike Huss, senior employment law specialist, Peninsula

Q What are the Working Time Regulations?

A The Working Time Regulations were introduced in 1998 to implement
the European Working Time Directive. They make provisions governing various
aspects of working hours and holidays, including limiting the number of hours
per week that a worker can be forced to work. They provide statutory minimum
entitlements to paid annual leave, daily and weekly rest periods and rest
breaks. Since their introduction, the regulations have resulted in confusion
over who is covered by them. At one time, the Department of Trade and Industry
believed non-mobile workers in the transport sector were covered, and that
mobile workers in other sectors were exempt. Both views were subsequently shown
to be incorrect.

Q What developments are planned regarding this area of the law?

A This August, the Working Time Regulations 1998 will be amended to
implement the provisions of a later European directive, known as the Horizontal
Amending Directive. Once amended, the regulations will cover all non-mobile
workers in the road, sea, inland waterway and sea fishing sectors. The
regulations will also apply to all workers in the railway and offshore sectors
and to some in the aviation sector. Some provisions will also cover mobile
workers in the road transport sector.

The Merchant Shipping Act has already been amended and new regulations
introduced to implement the Seafarers’ Directive. Further sector specific
regulations will be implemented in August relating to mobile workers in the
inland waterway and sea fishing sectors. Other legislation will be introduced
in December to govern the working time of mobile personnel in the civil
aviation sector, and to implement the Road Transport Directive by March 2005.
The provisions contained in these sector-specific regulations are different to
those in the 1998 Regulations.

Q My company is in the road transport sector. How will the planned
changes affect us?

A The biggest impact for most companies operating in the road
transport sector is likely to be holidays. All workers in this sector will be
entitled to a minimum of four weeks paid leave per year, with effect from
August. This will result in a direct increase in costs for companies that
currently offer less than four weeks holiday. They could also face new
administrative burdens through amendments to existing holiday accrual and
holiday pay systems that do not comply with the regulations.

Recent case law developments in this area must also be considered. For
example, any road transport company that currently allows workers to take four
weeks holiday per year but makes payment for that holiday by a ‘rolled up’
system, should look at changing this system so that payment is made at the same
time as holiday is taken.

In respect of any non-mobile workers, your company will be obliged to comply
with all of the other provisions of the Working Time Regulations. You will not
be able to insist such workers work for more than 48 hours per week on average.
They will also be entitled to at least the statutory minimum daily and weekly
rest periods and rest breaks, and to be offered health assessments if they are
night workers.

For mobile workers, the impact of the changes will depend on whether or not
they will be covered by the Road Transport Directive. This will cover any
mobile workers currently covered by the EC/AETR Drivers’ Hours Rules, and the
only aspect of the Working Time Regulations that will apply to them will be the
offer of health assessments if they are night workers (and four weeks paid
annual leave). Any mobile workers not currently covered by the EC/AETR Rules
will be covered by the Working Time Regulations, with effect from this August,
in respect of the 48-hour week, health assessments for night workers, ‘adequate
rest’ and four weeks paid annual leave.

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