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European Court Rules That Travelling To Work Can Also Be Work

European Court Rules That Travelling To Work Can Also Be Work

The European Court of Justice has ruled that time spent travelling to and from first and last appointments by those workers without a fixed office should be regarded as working time.

This time has not previously been considered as work by many employers and it means that thousands of firms including those employing care workers, gas fitters and sales reps may be in breach of EU working time regulations.

The ruling came about because of an ongoing legal case in Spain involving a company called Tyco, which installs security systems. In 2011 the company closed its regional offices resulting in employees travelling varying distances before arriving at their first appointment.

The court ruling said: "The fact that the workers begin and finish the journeys at their homes stems directly from the decision of their employer to abolish the regional offices and not from the desire of the workers themselves. Requiring them to bear the burden of their employer's choice would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by the directive, which includes the necessity of guaranteeing workers a minimum rest period”.

The court said that its judgement was about protecting the "health and safety" of workers as set out in the European Union's Working Time Directive, the European initiative which caps the working week at 48 hours. In the UK employees have the option of opting out of this directive.

Until now those employing “mobile workers” (those who have to travel to get to or from their first or last appointment of the day), were not required to count that time as work. The European Court of Justice judgement ruled that those without a fixed or habitual office should consider the time they spend travelling between their homes and the premises of their first and last jobs as part of their hours for the day.

As many as 975,000 people in the UK could fall under the remit of the ruling, says Paul Sellers, a policy officer at the TUC. The most obvious group of employees to fall under the definition of “mobile workers” are carers not already paid for travelling to their first and last jobs. Sales people who travel between sites and employee workmen such as plumbers or electricians, could also fall into this category.

The ruling could also eventually affect pay. While unions say the ruling does not directly deal with remuneration, it is possible the European judgement will be used in UK courts to challenge employers who pay an average hourly rate under the minimum wage (once travelling time is taken into account). That could mean employers facing increased wage bills and raises an outside chance that costs for some services, such as cleaners who have to travel and are paid a low wage, could go up.

It could also lead to a change in working patterns, especially for those who do not choose to opt out of the 48-hour maximum. Employers may have to plan where they're sending staff and try to make sure that the first and last shifts are as close to home as possible.

For more information about this or any other aspect of employment law, please contact Chris Wiper on 01325 466461 or email him chris.wiper@close-thornton.co.uk

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