Employment law update for contractors

17 September 2015

A recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling will have some important consequences for European employment law - specifically for contractors under the Working Time Directive (WTD).

Last week, the ECJ ruled that a group of Spanish workers with no ‘fixed or habitual’ workplace should have their time travelling to and from their first and last appointments counted against the 48 hour maximum working week.

The case involved a team of burglar alarm technicians who sometimes spent three hours travelling home at the end of their working day.

The European court ruled that these contractors should receive remuneration for the time they spent travelling to and from work, because they are at their ‘employer’s disposal’, carrying out their activities and duties ‘in accordance with national laws and/or practices’.

To keep contractors up to speed on their entitlements under European law, we’ve explained three of the most important details of the ECJ ruling:

  1. Under the WTD (an EU directive which guarantees certain rights for workers who have not opted out), an employee’s time is either ‘working time’ or ‘rest time’. There is no intermediate category or ‘travelling time’.
  2. Responding to concern from the UK government about this ruling’s cost to business; the judgement clearly states that the WTD is only concerned with regulating worker time and not the level of payment. The ECJ points out that Tyco, the company involved in the Spanish case, is free to choose the level of remuneration their employees receive during time spent travelling (so long as the amount is in line with national law). In the UK, this means that the rate of pay for time spent travelling will, in most cases, be no more than the National Minimum Wage.
  3. As well as only applying to contractors, the ruling will also only apply to those workers who have not opted-out of the Working Time Directive. Subscribing to this directive puts a number of restrictions on working practices. Among other things, the WTD limits permitted ‘working time’ to 48 hours per week and mandates a minimum of 11 consecutive hours of ‘rest time’ in each 24 hour period.

Peter Langham, Customer Services Director at Umbrella.co.uk said “As part of the service Umbrella.co.uk provide to you, we continually monitor all developments in UK or European Law which could affect you as a contractor. We will of course update you further should there be any significant decisions made”