To protect workers’ health and safety, working hours must meet minimum standards applicable throughout the EU.
The EU’s Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) requires EU countries to guarantee the following rights for all workers:
The Directive also sets out special rules on working hours for workers in a limited number of sectors, including doctors in training, offshore workers, sea fishing workers and people working in urban passenger transport. (There are separate directives on working hours for certain workers in specific transport sectors.)
The European Commission is currently reviewing Directive 2003/88/EC through a 2-stage consultation of EU-level workers' and employers' representatives and a detailed impact assessment.
European workers' and employers' organisations took part in the first stage of consultation, launched in March 2010. Most agreed that EU rules on working hours needed to be reviewed. However, views differed on the kind of changes needed; business called for more flexibility, while the unions wanted more effective protection.
The main outcome of the second stage of consultation, launched in December 2010, was that all the main cross-sectoral workers' and employers' representatives favoured the option – set out in Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) - of negotiating on the Working Time review themselves. In November 2011 they took a joint decision to start negotiations. Extensive talks were held throughout 2012, but no agreement was reached.
Since workers' and employers' organisations have been unable to reach agreement, it is now up to the Commission to decide on the review of the Working Time Directive.
The Commission is carrying out a detailed impact assessment, which will take full account of both social and economic aspects, building on preliminary studies and further analysis of the possible options and their foreseeable effects.
The Commission will take further decisions in the light of the results of this assessment.
Documentation is available on the Directive, its two forerunners, and the 2004-2009 proposal to amend the Directive.
The following Directives were consolidated and replaced by Directive: 2003/88/EC
(This proposal was not adopted, since the European Parliament and the Council could not reach agreement on it)