As early as 1993, a European Directive was issued on the organisation of working time. This Directive was replaced in 2003 by Directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time. The Directive is in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights which includes the right to safe and healthy work and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which establishes the right to fair and just working conditions.
The Interpretative Communication on the Directive published by the Commission in 2017 and updated in 2023 gives further explanations and aims to provide legal clarity. It brings together the provisions of the Directive and relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the EU.
This Directive lays down minimum safety and health requirements for the organisation of working time. It sets minimum periods of daily rest, weekly rest and annual leave, breaks and maximum weekly working time. It also aims to protect workers from negative health effects due to shift and night work as well as certain patterns of work.
In principle the Directive applies to all workers and all sectors, both public and private. However, the Directive does not apply where other Community instruments contain more specific requirements relating to the organisation of working time for certain occupations or occupational activities.
Such specific rules apply for transport sectors:
- Road transport: Directive 2002/15/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 on the organisation of the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities
Regulation 2006/561/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the harmonisation of certain social legislation relating to road transport
- Railway transport: Council Directive 2005/47/EC of 18 July 2005 on the Agreement between the Community of European Railways (CER) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) on certain aspects of the working conditions of mobile workers engaged in interoperable cross-border services in the railway sector
- Air: Council Directive 2000/79/EC of 27 November 2000 concerning the European Agreement on the Organisation of Working Time of Mobile Workers in Civil Aviation concluded by the Association of European Airlines (AEA), the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), the European Cockpit Association (ECA), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Carrier Association (IACA)
- Sea: Council directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999 concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST)
The Working Time Directive also contains special rules that apply to certain categories of workers in particular mobile workers, offshore workers and workers on board of seagoing fishing vessels (who do not fall under the scope of directive 1999/63/EC).
The Directive gives legal definitions of the terms "working time", "rest period", "adequate rest", "night time", "night worker", "shift work", "shift worker", "mobile worker", "adequate rest" and "offshore work".
Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period. Moreover, they shall take the measures necessary to ensure that, per each seven-day period, every worker is entitled to a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours (plus the 11 hours' daily rest if possible).
Every worker is entitled to a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours. Details including duration and the terms on which it is granted, shall be laid down in collective agreements, agreements between the two sides of industry or by national legislation.
The average weekly working time shall not exceed 48 hours.
Every worker is entitled to paid annual leave of at least four weeks. This minimum period of paid annual leave can not be replaced by an allowance except where the employment relationship is terminated.
Member States shall ensure that normal hours of work for night workers do not exceed an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period. They shall also ensure that night workers whose work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain do not work more than eight hours in any period of 24 hours during which they perform night work.
Night workers are entitled to a free health assessment before their assignment and to regular checks thereafter. Night workers suffering from health problems recognised as being connected with the fact that they perform night work are to be transferred whenever possible to day work to which they are suited.
Member States shall ensure that night workers and shift workers have safety and health protection appropriate to the nature of their work and that appropriate protection and prevention services or facilities with regard to the safety and health of night workers and shift workers are equivalent to those applicable to other workers and are available at all times.
Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that an employer who intends to organise work according to a certain pattern takes account of the general principle of adapting work to the worker, with a view, in particular, to alleviating monotonous work and work at a predetermined work-rate, and of safety and health requirements, especially as regards breaks during working time.
- EU Commission – webpage Working Conditions - Working Time Directive
- EU Commission – webpage Working Conditions - Sectoral Working Time
- Interpretative Communication on Directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time (2023)
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions – webpage Working time