In a landmark judgement, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the time spent traveling to and from first and last appointments by workers without a fixed office should be regarded as working time.
The ruling came on an ongoing legal case in Spain involving a company called Tyco, which installs security systems. The company shut its regional offices in 2011, resulting in employees travelling varying distances before arriving at their first appointment. The employees had argued that the time they spent travelling from home to their first appointment should be classed as work, in accordance with the EU’s working time directive, which was held by the court. The court dismissed arguments from the UK government that counting travel as working time would inevitably lead to higher costs for business.
The 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.”
According to BBC, the ruling could have a “huge effect” and firms including those employing care workers, gas fitters and sales reps may be in breach of European Union (EU) working time regulations. These are designed to protect workers from exploitation by employers, and lay down regulations on matters such as how long employees work, how many breaks they have, and how much holiday they are entitled to. One of its main goals is to ensure that no employee in the EU is obliged to work more than an average of 48 hours a week.
This particular move if effected could open up discussions in other parts of the world. In India, especially in metro cities like Bombay and Bangalore where workers are known to spend close to 4-5 hours everyday in commute, this could be a specially welcome change.