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Union wins travelling time case in European court

Large numbers of workers could be entitled to more pay or a reduction in hours after the European court of justice ruled that travel to and from some jobs could be counted as part of a working day.

In a judgment which takes effect immediately, the Luxembourg-based court said this should be the case for staff without a fixed or regular workplace who generally travel from home to and from a variety of locations.

Trade unions said the decision could bring significant benefits for care workers or other Britons whose job generally involves travel between appointments without an office base. Some employment lawyers said the decision could increase costs for some companies.

The case was brought by a Spanish trade union against Tyco, a multinational fire and security company which closed its network of regional offices in Spain in 2011. Staff now travel from home to install security systems, with the first appointment of the day sometimes three hours’ drive away, time currently treated by the company as a “rest period”, the judges noted.

They ruled this was unfair as Tyco had previously viewed the start of the working day as being the moment staff arrived at their regional office, from where they were given a list of appointments for the day.

The judgment said: “During the necessary travelling time – which generally cannot be shortened – the workers are therefore not able to use their time freely and pursue their own interests. 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.”

Making staff “bear the burden of their employer’s choice” could be contrary to the EU’s working time directive, which lays down rules on rest periods and maximum working hours, the court said.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union in Britain, said the ruling was “bound to have a significant impact in the UK, particularly on home care workers”.

He added: “Tens of thousands of home care workers are not even getting the minimum wage because their employers fail to pay them for the time they spend travelling between the homes of all the people they care for. Now, thanks to this case, they should also be paid when they are travelling to their first visit, and again back home from their last.”

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The GM union said it had many members who started and ended their working day at home, including home care staff and employees of energy utilities. They would “feel reassured that the court has so clearly recognised that travelling from home to your first client, patient or customer and home from the last one at the end of your shift is rightly counted as working time”, said Kathleen Walker Shaw, the union’s Europe officer.

However, one employment lawyer said the judgment could have unintended repercussions. Aye Limbin-Glassey from Shakespeare Martineau said some companies could react by turning to flexible or zero-hours contracts. She said: “The need to pay employees for travel time means that for some businesses the servicing of clients in remote areas may no longer be profitable. The ruling could also affect the job market, with preference shown to potential employers that live closer to the firm’s client base, therefore claiming a smaller ‘travel wage’.”


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