Travel to work ruling: Who is affected and how?

Time spent travelling to and from first and last jobs by workers who do not have a fixed office should be regarded as work, European judges have ruled.

What did the court say?

Until now, those employing mobile workers who had to travel to get to or from their first or last appointment of the day were not required to count that time as work.

On Thursday, the European Court of Justice judgement ruled 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.

The ruling relates to the 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 the directive.

 Employees who fall into the category loosely defined as “mobile workers” – those who habitually travel to different places of work – could be affected.

Simon Bond, an employment specialist at Higgs and Sons solicitors, says the most obvious group to fall under this definition is carers not already paid for travelling to their first and last jobs. Sales people who travel between sites and employee workmen and women, such as plumbers or electricians, could also fall into this category.

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.  And some employees could be working an extra 10 hours a week once travelling time is counted, Chris Tutton, an employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, adds.

I travel a lot for work, but I have a permanent office

The ruling is less likely to affect people who work both in an office and remotely. If your contract includes a permanent base, you are unlikely to be able to successfully argue you are a mobile worker, Mr Sellers says.

There may, however, be cases where it is possible to argue that a permanent base is meaningless because of the length of time spent outside the office.

I have to commute two hours every day to my office

For those with a permanent office (however lengthy your commute), this ruling will not have an effect. Mr Sellers says this final group is the “overwhelming majority” in the UK.

I think I’m affected. Should I expect a pay rise or a change in my hours?

The ruling could eventually affect pay. Unions say the ruling does not directly deal with remuneration, focussing instead on working hours and conditions. But 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 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. “I think some employers will look at where they’re sending staff – they might try to make sure that the first and last shifts are as close to home as possible because they don’t want to eat into that working time that they have,” Mr Tutton said.

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