What is the Working Time Directive?

Workers on average can't work for more than 48 hours per week on average, according to the Working Time Regulations.

What is the Working Time Directive?

The Working Time Directive is the law which limits the number of hours workers can work per week.

People also refer to the “maximum working hours”, the “WTD” or “working time regulations”.

The European Parliament voted the Working Time Directive in 1993, and was updated twice since in 2000 and 2003. The Directive was enacted in UK law as the Working Time Regulations in 1998, which was amended in 2003.

Its aim is to “protect workers’ health and safety” by providing compulsory “periods of daily rest, breaks, weekly rest, maximum weekly working time, annual leave”. It also regulates certain aspects of night work, shift work and patterns of work.

What is the maximum working hours?

In the UK, workers can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average, over an average period of 17 weeks.

Workers under 18 can’t work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours a week.

How to calculate the working hours?

Working hours are calculated as an average over a “reference period”, typically 17 weeks.

What counts in the calculation of the working hours is the time spent on:

  • training
  • work travel and time spent abroad for work
  • working lunches
  • paid and unpaid overtime (if requested by the employer)
  • time on call at the workplace

If employees have more than one job, the working hours are cumulated.

Can you work more than the maximum working hours?

Yes, it’s called “opting-out”.

  • Employees can chose to opt out, if they’re 18 or over.
  • Employers can ask employees to opt out, but can’t sack their employees if they refuse.

Certain categories of workers can’t opt out:

  • airline staff
  • workers on ships and boats
  • drivers of vehicles over 3.5 tonnes
  • security guards on vehicles with high-value goods

Do holidays count towards working time directive?

No. Paid and unpaid holidays don’t count towards the working time.

What’s more, what doesn’t count towards the working time is:

  • the lunch breaks
  • unpaid, volunteering time
  • time to travel to and from work, if the employee has a fixed place of work.

Can HGV drivers opt out of the working time directive?

No, drivers driving vehicles of 3.5 tonnes or over can’t work more than 48 hours per week on average over the reference period (typically 17 weeks).

Furthermore, drivers can’t drive for more than 60 hours in one single week.

Drivers working during the night can’t work more than 10 hours, unless there’s an agreement.

If they work between 6 and 9 hours in a day, they are entitled to breaks of 30 minutes in total, with each break lasting 15 minutes at the minimum.

If they work for more than 9 hours, they are entitled to breaks of 45 minutes in total, with each break lasting 15 minutes at the minimum.

Typically, drivers use tachographs to record their hours and ensure they comply with the WTD rules.

Will the Working Time Directive still apply once the UK exit the European Union?

Theresa May is currently preparing a draft bill on the future UK workers’ rights, once the UK exit the European Union. It is still unclear which impact Brexit will have on the Working Time Directive.

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