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What is the European Working Time Directive?

  • Last modified date:
    28 July 2009

The EWTD is a directive from the Council of Europe (93/104/EC) to protect the health and safety of workers in the European Union. It lays down minimum requirements in relation to working hours, rest periods, annual leave and working arrangements for night workers.

The Directive was enacted into UK law as the Working Time Regulations, which took effect from 1October 1998.  The Government negotiated an extension of up to twelve years to prepare for full implementation for doctors in training.

What is the situation at the moment?

Since 1991, doctors in training have been covered by the New Deal, a package of measures to improve the conditions under which they work. One of the key features of the New Deal is limits on the working hours of junior doctors. From August 2003 all junior doctors are limited by contract to 56 hours of active work.

The legal definition of working time

"Working time shall mean any period during which the worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his or her activity or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice."

The European Court made a judgement in October 2000, in answer to a claim by doctors in Spain, that time spent resident on call be defined as work:

What is the timetable for implementation of the WTD?

August 2009

Deadline for 48-hour maximum working week. This may exceptionally be extended by another three years at 52 hours, with 48 hours then being implemented in 2012.

August 2007

Interim 56-hour maximum working week. (Rest break requirements became legally enforceable in 2004)

What are the rest and break requirements?

  • A minimum daily consecutive rest period of 11 hours
  • A minimum rest break of 20 minutes when the working day exceeds six hours
  • A minimum rest period of 24 hours in each seven day period (or 48 hours in 14 days)
  • A minimum of four weeks' paid annual leave
  • A maximum of eight hours' work in any 24 hours for night workers in stressful job

What flexibility will NHS employers have in giving rest entitlements?

A derogation is an agreement to introduce flexibility in some of the rest requirements, allowing doctors, for example, to take compensatory rest in lieu of the rest they should be getting while working. We have derogated from rest requirements for doctors in training (subject to immediate compensatory rest) under the Working Time Regulations 2003, thereby giving NHS employers some flexibility as to when rest is taken. This will help the NHS to plan services around patient needs.

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Better patient care

Hospital at Night, a model of shift patterns and staffing mix for the NHS to use in response to the European Working Time Directive has delivered improvements to patient care.

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